This race report comes from Aaron Courain — one half of the Courain Brothers duo. He, his brother John and Tamela Swan killed it at this year’s Krista Griesacker 12 hour race. Here’s their story.
John, Tamela and I met up in Hamburg, PA on Friday night to race the GOALS Krista Griesacker 12 hour adventure race. Last year John and I raced this as a 2 person Male team and took the overall win. Coming back this year we had a reputation to uphold.
Friday night we got a big map and John transposed all of the CPs from one of the provided master maps. We then sat down to go over the rules of travel along with the map and instantly became confused. The whole first section of the race was a bike leg, but at least half of the leg showed no trails at all. The rules of travel said that we would be following a series of unmapped trails with tape that would guide us for the turns. Ok, fair enough. The rest of the course looked pretty straight forward. Bike, Paddle, Trek, in that order. With not much map work to figure out of the next day, we all got a good rest and packed our bags for 12 hours of adventure.
After bussing to the start line, we received vague instructions as to how the prologue would go. Run around the park and follow the trail that stays near the river, then pick up “a thing” at the train trestle, continue running around the park and trade in your “thing” for your passport. Then get on the bikes. Ok. As the prologue started I ended up at the front of the pack, running along the river. Then the trail moved away from the river and I must have missed the trail that put you back on the river…and then everyone else followed me. After correcting and getting back on course we were back in the jumbled peloton of prologue runners. Finally finishing the prologue loop, we set off on our bikes mid pack.
The bike would take us through town and onto a rail trail that paralleled a highway. Having a rough start, we worked our way past all of the teams who could follow instructions better than us to catch up with GOALS, who were leading the pack. They would be our competition for the day. We caught them near the end of the rail trail and then passed before bike whacking up to CP 1. At this point we were in the unmapped trail section, so we were navigating based on the rules of travel, which described what we should do and when we should turn.
We continued on to climb a ridge with a lead pack consisting of NYARA, GOALS and the REV3 duo. Once at the top of the ridgeline, NYARA and GOALS seemed to be able to keep a quicker pace and broke off from the rest of the group. We basically traveled as a team of 6 for the duration of the ridgeline, and then descent to CP4 and 5. Getting to CP6, still with unmapped trails, was described as an uphill bike whack in the rules of travel to get up to the next ridgeline. The bikewhack was much shorter than I was expecting and we were soon back on trail. At this point we pulled away from GOALS for good on the bike leg.
The remainder of the bike went smoothly enough, except for an issue with Tamela’s cleat losing a screw. We had to take a quick minute to fully remove the cleat, so Tamela would be riding with one foot not clipped in. At the end of the ridgeline was a screaming, teeth chattering loose downhill where my brakes totally overheated and stopped working forcing me to steer off into the woods so I could stop and walk down the rest of the hill. Thankfully we all got down in one piece. At the bottom of the descent we found ourselves back at the rail trail we began with. We formed a paceline back down the rail trail and then on roads for a few miles and really pushed to the TA to start the canoe leg.
At the paddle we transitioned quickly and jumped in the boat to keep the momentum. This leg was a pretty long paddle for only a 12 hour race. 9 miles, of which the first third was on a very slow moving lake/river. We would also have 2 portages around dams. We took the time to refuel as much as we could on this leg. We moved smoothly but probably not as quickly as we thought. Aside from Tamela smacking me in the back of the head with her paddle a dozen times, the leg was enjoyably uneventful. Having the two portages also broke up the monotony of paddling and allowed the blood to get back into our legs.
At the end of the paddle we weren’t sure what to expect as there was no clear take out point marked on the map and the TA was 100 or so yards inland; although there was an optional CP which was worth 10 points that we had to get from the boats. As we neared the area where we were expecting to see something, we took a minute to re-read the race instructions and the map, to try and figure out what we were supposed to do. After wasting 2 or 3 minutes we continued around the next bend to see CP 10 which was 100 feet up and the take out. I’m not sure why that was so unclear in the race instructions, but oh well. We portaged up to the TA and began transitioning to the final trek of the day. As we were wrapping up the transition, GOALS came in to the TA. I thought our lead was a bit bigger, but apparently not. It was crunch time.
We ran back to the river and crossed to start our last trekking leg. Steep climbs were a theme today. And we bushwhacked up a few hundred feet to get the first trekking CP only to go back down for the next and then back up. John was navigating super smoothly. We kept a solid pace and never had to search for a CP. Always approaching and spotting it from a hundred feet away.
The trek saw us descend back to the river we were paddling for another crossing. Here we refilled our water for the last time in anticipation for the longest section of the trek. After crossing the river and checking in at the manned CP14, we asked if GOALS had somehow passed us on the previous section. Nope, still in the lead. No time to waste, keep moving.
One last climb. Saving the best for last. 800 feet straight up the side of a hill with a CP in the middle. John’s navigation was dead on and somehow, the heat was peaking in the afternoon. Thankfully we fueled with a bunch of calories on the paddle, so I could stick to easier things to eat like gu’s and apple sauce in order to keep me moving at a quick pace.
The climb ended, and we set out on a plateau towards the rest of the CPs. A mixture of running on dirt roads and bushwhacking to points kept us on our toes with an eye and ear out for GOALS behind us. We approached CP20, the final CP before the finish line with a bit of caution. The clue was border corner, and there would be no punch or flag; only a rock with a number written on it. We headed into the woods to first find the border line marks on the trees. Once finding them, we followed to the corner. It felt easy enough for us, but it seemed like some of the newer teams and racers might have trouble. From here we had a 2k downhill bushwhack to the finish line. We were warned at the pre race meeting to leave 1-1.5 hours for this section. We were well ahead of a time cutoff, but I was expecting a tough 2k.
As we descended, we found ourselves leaving the nice open forest, and fighting denser and denser woods until we were battling walls of thorns 6 feet high. This was the most painful bushwhack I have ever experienced. The only upside was the amount of blackberries we found and could eat along the way. But for every blackberry I picked, I had a dozen thorns to pick out of my skin. It was impossible to keep a bearing here. The thorns were too dense to go through, so we found ourselves going around and traversing more and more. We followed game trails where we could, but then they would dead end into another nest of thorns that we had no option but to battle through. There was much rejoicing and jubilee when we found the road at the bottom of the bushwhack. But the big question was, did GOALS pass us on this last section?
As we ran towards the finish line, we heard that we were the first team in! John’s great navigation brought us through and we were able to really stay on top of our nutrition and run a smooth and fast race. The last bushwhack took us 57 minutes. Unfortunately for many other teams, they would be stuck in that for closer to 2 hours, coming in well after the finish time, as well as in the dark. But everyone finished with a smile on their face, most likely because they were finally out of that ridiculously painful bushwhack.
Big thanks to GOALS for the fun and challenging course, and the great competition!