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!”
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