Race Report: Lion Heart

Congrats to Team NYARA for another strong perfomrance! This time at AAS Lionheart. Team Captain, Eric Caravella has the following report.
 
Over the weekend, Team NYARA took a trip out to Western Pennsylvania to race the 24hr AAS Lionheart. The team was Cara Guilfoyle, Mikal Davis, with your humble writer Eric Caravella deciphering maps (sometimes well, sometimes poorly… but more on that later). We rented a cabin near the race start, and Cara’s husband Gregg came to show his support. He made us dinner the night before the race, for which he earned a dozen gold stars. Here’s a pic of Gregg killing it on the camp stove:
 
IMG_0810
 
Having Gregg as support crew turned out to be very fortunate for us, because otherwise we may have found ourselves dining at this weird local establishment:
 
joe dogg
 
There was some discussion about why there is mustard all over Joe’s face in the sign (and whether or not it’s even mustard). Just another reminder that we were deep in Pennsyltucky for the weekend.
 
At check in, AAS provided us with roughly the first 8 hours of checkpoints with more info to be provided mid-race. We packed our bags, discussed our strategy, stuffed our faces, and tried to get some sleep.
 
Then came race morning:
 
start
 
There was no prologue, so everyone dashed off and arrived at CP1 together. We tried a couple of bushwhack shortcuts to get to 2 and 3, but they turned out not to pay off quite as well as we’d hoped. During these bushwhacks, Mikal discovered the “Devil Plants” indigenous to Western PA. Since he was the only one in shorts, Cara and I had no idea why he was complaining so much. Apparently whatever they were, the leaves irritated his legs as he trekked through them. Based on his description, Cara did some research and discovered the species:
 
devil plant
 
The “Devil Plants” became a recurring theme throughout the race, much to Mikal’s chagrin. 
 
We arrived at the paddle put-in roughly 30 minutes behind the leaders but in a dead heat with Odyssey. The paddle was slower than expected, and we got hung up on rocks several times. But our all-star support crew (aka, Gregg) miraculously appeared on the riverbank and was able to snap a photo of us:
 
paddle
 
We lost another 30 minutes to the leaders during the paddle and the subsequent jog to the rappel, but were entertained along the way by the “Amish Armada” of whitewater rafts floating everywhere down the Youghiogheny. Apparently there was an enormous group of Amish out for a day on the river, and they were just having a grand old time splashing one another and getting stuck on rocks just like us. It was nice to have some company on the river for those long paddling hours.
 
The rappel was preceded by a slackline traverse across the river:
cara slackline2
mikal slackline
 
cara slackline
 
Then we rapped off the ledge to the left of Cucumber Falls:
 
cucumber falls
 
Then an amazingly confusing trail run/bushwhack took us back to the start, which was also CP9/TA3, but most importantly…where we found out what the rest of the course had in store for us. We came in at the exact same time as Odyssey. The second part of the race was a long bike leg with 8 CPs and a couple nasty looking bushwhacks. Mikal and Cara were very efficient through the TA as always, we developed a great strategy for the bike leg and set off. It was going very well for the first 6 CPs… we were working extremely well as a team and everyone was feeling pretty good. We took a chance on a trail not on the map and it paid off big time, and we found two of the tricky bushwhack CPs with little problem. We were in good spirits and on track to clear the course in 20 hours for a potential podium finish…..
 
Then…. adventure racing happened. We had to hike a huge hill to get the second to last CP. It would have been possible to ride our bikes off the other side of the hill to cut a little distance after grabbing the CP, but I made the call to leave our bikes at the bottom and come back for them to save energy on the climb. It was supposed to be a quick up and down, but when we got to the top it became apparent that the trail network was far more confusing than the maps suggested. We ran into Odyssey once again, but they had their bikes with them. It turned out to be the right call, because they were able to scout the area much quicker than we could on foot. I rushed my decision and took the trail in the wrong direction. We hiked it for what seemed like ages, hoping that each turn in the trail would reveal the CP or at least some feature that made sense. We ultimately decided to backtrack to where we started, when I knew exactly where we were. We managed to find the correct trail in a matter of minutes and went and grabbed the CP. GOALS passed us at this point, also on their bikes, and we knew we slipped a bit in the rankings. But we forged on, and went back to our bikes. We managed to grab the final CP with little problem and turned toward the finish.
 
And then the pain came. The final climb to the finish covered 1200 vertical feet in just 6 kilometers. Cara was battling severe chafing, and Mikal was battling the bonks, complete with nausea and dehydration. But they were champs and pushed through. Our pace was slow in the end, but we helped each other make the finish line with all CPs in just under 22 hours. Our rank was 5th in the Coed Elite division and 5th overall.
 
While our results weren’t quite what we hoped for, we had fun and would do it all over again. American Adventure Sports put on a great race, and Ohiopyle State Park was beautiful. The race was a lesson in maintaining focus and managing pace, but it was also a lesson in teamwork and the value of appreciating your companions. We all learned something from the Lionheart, not the least of which was how much we enjoyed racing together.
 
Boy, that was cheesy. Luckily we have Cara to close out the report with her thoughts:
 
“Overall this was a great race with a great team. I haven’t done a 24AR in about 4 years, so I knew this might be a challenge and at a high pace (Eric demonstrated the fastest bushwhacking pace I have ever seen and Mikal is a rocket on the runs!) Eric and Mikal were nothing but helpful and supportive. We came together as a team and I would think that we accomplished more together than we would have as individuals. We ran into some problems at the end of the race, but we will learn very much from our issues/mistakes. We supported each other well and will apply what we learned in the future. I am really proud of the work we did out there 🙂 Thanks guys for getting me through, you were both inspirational, loved racing with you and can’t wait for the next one!”
Advertisements

Race Report: Krista Griesacker

Team NYARA is proud of Eric and Ann Marie for a super strong performance at this year’s Krista Griesacker race. The race is put on by GOALS ARA and is typically a 12 hour Race. This year Team NYARA raced in the two person co-ed category and won it! Ann Marie gave us the following report. Enjoy!

20140806-100402.jpg
Strategy and speed, or some combination of the two, is what will help your team win. It was an honor to race the GOALS Krista 12 hour race with Eric Caravella as Team NYARA this past Saturday. Although I had always been the navigator for my team for my past 10 years of racing, I was more than happy that Eric would be the navigator for this race so I could focus on trying to keep up with him – this was the dynamic that would work well for our team.

Monsoon rains came down just before the pre-race check-in on Friday night, setting up tents and getting gear ready was a soggy affair with the constant dripping of water through the trees, and the forecast was for scattered storms on race day, too. Of course we all know the race will go on regardless. The usual Hawk Mountain Civil Air Patrol base camp facilities were wonderful, and comfortably familiar. At check-in we get the map and start marking points, copying down from the maps hung on the walls. Eric immediately was focused and very detailed, really paying attention to the elevation of the points, putting together a list of question for the Race Directors to fine tune our race.

At the race meeting, Race Directors Brian Reiss and Derek Lawrence were clearly thrilled with the racecourse they had planned, and they set a fun and upbeat mood for the next day. Morning arrives, and Team NYARA totally missed the 6 am meeting, clueless, never heard the loudspeakers calling for us – fortunately we didn’t miss anything other than taking attendance. Then we hopped on the buses for an hour ride to the town of Tamaqua for the race start.

After a short prologue to spread out the teams, the race starts on bike, in a hidden gem of technical singletrack park that hosts some local Mt Bike races. There are no checkpoints in here, instead the course is marked with blue arrows and flagging, sending us up down and all around, full of alley-oops, and up and overs, some a little too dicey with wet roots and drops. Altogether very fun if you like Mt biking. Ultimately, the only checkpoint we were going for was M1 sitting atop the ridge. Once on the ridge, it looks like a 6k double track to the west, plus a road ride with serious elevation. Or, as we checked out when studying the map on Friday night, the other option was instead to bomb down to town and take the level road across the valley to TA1. The problem was that after following the marked course on the way up, I was turned around and unsure of the descent. Eric had a good feeling for it, and when Team REV3 went blowing by us on the downhill with the same plan, that locked in our decision to head back to town.

20140806-100412.jpg

After cruising through the valley, we were the second team to arrive at TA1. TA1 sat in a saddle between 2 highpoints to the east and west. The next part of the race consisted of 2 optional foot sections, ‘A’ and ‘B’, each with 7 checkpoints, set up on those highpoints. When studying the map, Eric decided to start with ‘B’ as the terrain was more obvious. Eric takes off like the wind, I did my best in here, but my legs were burning on the endless uphill. Picture a mountain goat teamed with an old Galapagos tortoise. Once we reached the plateau, the navigation needs to kick in – we are looking for a minor saddle 1k west, and the saddle is so minor, and the ridge so broad, we were afraid of missing it. Fortunately, Eric nailed it right on, and we kept going. Eric’s pace counting was fabulous through the course of the race, of the 3 long stretches that he counted, the most he was off was by 5 steps. Yeah, just 5.

We collected 6 of the 7 CP’s in section B before we heard voices in the woods behind us, we tried to scurry up the next hill to stay hidden, but tortoises don’t scurry, and soon after we were caught by 3 teams, including GOALS. For the first time in my life, my hamstrings cramped and that pain just stopped me in my tracks. (My thanks to Val who shared some electrolyte tabs so I could keep moving). I was discouraged at this point because I knew Eric could be flying out ahead, but he was a fabulous teammate, he never gave up on me, and he picked some decent lines that I could follow. We grabbed the last CP and started the descent back down to the TA. We had to strategize here – do we try for anything on the ‘A’ side? Most other top teams were going for all or part of the ‘A’ loop, the phrase “staying competitive” was tossed around quite a bit. But it was a major hill climb to get up there, and my legs were already tired. And we were only halfway through the race – we still had the paddle on the river (if it had any water this year was still unknown), and a very long one direction trek to get back to the finish. We decided to skip ‘A’, go directly to the paddle, and concentrate on the Optional points on the long trek back, hoping that the clock would work against any team who took too long up there on loop ‘A’. Foreshadowing of things to come…

We arrived first at the paddle and were pleased to find enough water to float our boat, so off we went. With only 2 bodies in the boat, we did make it over most shallow spots, and finished the paddle in about 1 hour, way ahead of the 2 hours we planned for. Now I’m feeling guilty that perhaps I should have pushed the hill for the ‘A’ loop, but it’s too late now. Eric reset his altimeter, and we headed off for 3k on the road, then back into the woods we go. The 3 optional points in this section were tricky, set on vague state gameland boundaries and vegetation boundaries. F3 was set at post 20 on the vegetation boundary, and the elevation just wasn’t working. After looking around for a bit, we decided to skip it, go get F1, then come back at F3 from another angle. F1 was no picnic either, and as a navigator I would have walked away from this one, but Eric was determined and cool, and did I mention determined? And sure enough, battling though endless rhodo bushes, there it was.

We set out again for F3, and came back to the exact same spot we were before. Now we need to start widening our circle, something isn’t making sense. Ultimately we find the CP 65 feet higher than expected which causes Eric to question the elevation, the altimeter, and the map. But the good side of all the wandering around was we knew that the dotted line on the map indicating a trail was a lie, and on the trip to F1 and back we had also already found the re-entrant up to M8, so Eric was confident as we started the last hill climb. M9 was a beautiful vista off the AT, one of those uber awesome spots where you can see for miles and makes the race pause for a moment. Well, I paused and enjoyed the moment, Eric was checking the map and planning our descent. Off we went, scrambling down an endless major boulder field, Eric estimated 800 meters angling off southwest to hit the trail (it was actually 803 meters to step onto the trail, awesome!). We scrambled down this trail – more like a stream runoff – and popped out by the soybean field just short of home base. When we checked in at M11 around 5:30, they told us we were the first team out of the woods, which was another indication that for some teams that went for the ‘A’ loop, time was not going to be kind. When the Race Director seems relieved to finally see a team emerge from the woods, you know the cutoff time will become a determining factor in the results.

For Team NYARA to finish, we had one last bushwhack up and over. What we didn’t know was REV3 was right behind us, and instead of the bushwhack they decided to run the flat road around. As Eric and I skirted the active shooting range, heading downhill for the finish, we heard cheering up ahead as REV3 arrived first overall, AND clearing the course. Team NYARA came across the line as the 2nd team to finish, but short of points from the ‘A’ loop. Now it was wait and see who else could get in before the cutoff, and how many points they would carry.

Outside of the race clock, the Obstacle course was open for 1 additional bonus point, and it is just too much fun to miss! My teammate really stepped in to help get my sorry exhausted depleted body up the rope climb, and over the 6 foot wall, I had every good intention but I was so maxxed out I fell off the rope swing into the mud puddle, and I didn’t care one bit!

We found some food and chilled out, and waited. And waited. The clock ticked on. Where is everyone? In the end, only 10 teams that started the race made it in by cutoff. Our closest competition in C2 came in with 1 extra point, but too late, so they lost the point and tied our number. Team NYARA won with a faster time, 1st place in Co-ed 2 division, and 4th overall. Other teams missed points and/or the race cut-off because of the length and toughness of that last trek section, and spending too much time on the ‘A’ and ‘B’ loops early in the day. Strategically, we balanced out what my legs could handle with Eric’s sharp navigating, and it ended up to be a really good call. It was an honor to race with him, just to watch a good navigator navigate was cool, and he knew I was doing my best to keep up, and that I was determined to keep moving. And another of my favorite things is the time spent after the race reviewing the course with other teams, swapping stories and laughing. We agreed up front to have fun with the race, and we certainly did!

High fives to Aaron Courain and John Courain for taking 1st overall with an awesome showing, and to GOALS for winning the 3 person supreme divine category also clearing the course.

20140806-100420.jpg

Solo Racing with Chris Obara

Chris Obara, a longtime Team NYARA member, gives us some insight into solo racing.

20140801-173902.jpg

Traditionally, adventure racing is a team based sport, but borrowing from orienteering, more and more adventure racing organizations are opening up competition to solo racers. As a big fan of racing solo, I’d like to share some tips and observations I’ve made over the years.
First of all, why race solo? While I’ve been accused of being antisocial, I don’t think that’s the case (well not entirely). For me the biggest draw is the sense of accomplishment that I feel after completing a race, especially a long race resulting in a podium or a win. Racking up checkpoints while being completely on your own in the woods with nobody to lean on for hours and hours can be really satisfying.

People usually ask if me racing solo is lonely. I find that in an adventure race, my brain is usually so busy managing nutrition, strategy, navigation and time that this isn’t much of a factor. The paddle sections can get a bit boring though so I usually sing or talk to myself to get through those. You just have to make sure you stop if you see anyone on shore or else they’ll think you’re an escaped mental patient with a spandex fetish.

Another big benefit of racing solo the flexibility that comes with not having to find teammates. Sometimes with a busy schedule you may not be able to make a decision on whether or not to do a race until the last minute. Maybe you’re coming back from an injury and want to take it easy without worrying about slowing anyone down or disappointing someone if you have to stop.

While you’d think there wouldn’t be a team element to racing solo, I’ve found that many times, I would wind up creating makeshift alliances with other racers or teams for sections of a race. If you’re going at the same speed and have similar strategies, you can wind up linking up with other teams during the race. This is especially helpful during nighttime parts of the race where navigation is more difficult. A risk of working with another team is that you can get lulled into slowing your pace if the team is slower that you were originally racing. You have to quickly recognize this and resist the urge to stay with them. On the other hand, connecting with someone who is going faster than you were can make you kick it up a gear if your motivation was waning. Just be careful you don’t motivate another solo racer that is going to be at your heels on the way to the finish line!

From an equipment standpoint, a solo racer has to be completely self-sufficient. You can’t bum a cliff bar or a tire patch off a teammate when you’re a solo racer. This means having enough food and drink, inner tubes, tools, etc. This also means more redundancy. A spare compass is a must and for night races, spare lights and batteries are also a must. If you’re out there bushwhacking alone at night and you lose your light, you’re not going anywhere until sunrise. Some organizations even require solo competitors to carry a GPS tracking device for extra safety. All this extra equipment leads to a slightly heavier pack compared to racing with a team.

Finally, one of the biggest challenges in racing solo is motivation. With adventure racing, different route choices and race strategies sometimes separate teams to the point of not seeing another team or racer for hours at a time. When you’re alone, you really have to keep reminding yourself that you’re in a race and to keep moving as fast as you can the entire time. It’s easy to space out and start going at a relaxed pace if you’re not paying attention. My usual motivation is to picture myself sitting at my desk on Monday morning looking at the race results and seeing myself beaten by two minutes or one checkpoint and thinking why didn’t I just go a tiny bit faster?

As you can see, there are many pros and cons to weigh when deciding whether racing solo is for you. In general there are extra challenges but the sense of accomplishment can make it all worth it.

20140801-174039.jpg

Thanks to Chris for this great write up. What do all you out there think about solo racing? Would you do it?