Team NYARA recently headed down to New Mexico for the HMAR 72h race. This was probably one of the highest priority races for us this year — mostly because Whitney was born and raised in New Mexico and she and I met while getting our MBAs at UNM.
Having spent time in the state we knew what many people have somehow missed – New Mexico is AMAZING! It is on my top 3 list of favorite places in the country (together with Summit CO, and New York City). When we heard that there was going to be an adventure race there we quickly decided that this was an absolute “go-to” this year.
We had some problems finding partners with several seasoned teammates that had last minute things come up. Luckily we had Tommy Konecny wanting to try a race. Tommy is a beast – 2:48 marathon, 7:45 Leadville 100 MTB and he and I joined up in the spring to snag 3rd at 12h of Mesa Verde MTB race. So in terms of fitness we know he is good to go – but the longest race he had done are some 24h MTB races. One night is very different than three – so we were all excited and a little nervous for the start.
It didn’t change once we saw the first leg. HMAR is doing things “PQ or Eco Challenge-style” where you basically only get to know the first leg of the race and then you get each leg as you finish the previous one. This also means that you get to see all your TA-bins at each transition, which is nice and minimizes obsessing about “what to put in which bin” before the race start.
So we get the first leg – and it’s 73k on foot, with at least four climbs that are 2000+ vertical feet and three that are above 1500 vertical feet. Normal rules of prologue, short legs at the start etc. did not apply. This was going to be 16h+ on foot right off the bat if we pushed a steady pace and made no big mistakes. Welcome to AR Tommy – hope you like it!
At 7.00 pm the gun went off and we jogged down an asphalt road. Soon we hit the first climb and from there we hiked the uphills, ran the flats, and focused on keeping a decent pace. The most important thing on this leg was to always know where we were — the terrain was huge, and mistakes could be very costly. It went smoothly through the night, well mostly smooth. Whitney did turn into vomitron about 4 hours in and couldn’t eat for around 7 hours, but she rallied and it didn’t really slow us down too much.
We cleared the first section in about 16h and now looked at a 100K+ MTB ride that was basically just up or just down! If you want to see flat sections – look elsewhere all we did was climb or ride down steep hills for hours and hours. As the second night fell we only had a couple of hours left on the leg.
Somehow Whitney entered into a dream world without Tommy or me realizing it. Usually when someone heads down the rabbit hole it is very noticeable, but here the only way it displayed was a lack of ability to stay on the bike (falling asleep and crashing). What we didn’t know was that in her brain there was an intense battle going on. She somehow imagined that only women were allowed on the south boundary trail (an amazing trail – better than almost every single IMBA epic trail that I have ridden). So we are riding down south boundary and Whitney is occasionally falling off her bike and trying to figure out how we could ride down the trail even though we had men on our team. Needless to say it took a little longer than usual to find the next CP, especially since she was the only one with a bike computer.
Overall it went fine – but we opted for the “longer, safer” way to the TA to make sure we got there without issue.
We had a planned sleep at the TA and took a 135min TA including a 90 min sleep and warm food. Dreams of Justin Bieber haunted all of us (unsure why – but they did).
Next up was a 37k foot leg, but with trails and roads that had much better surface than the first leg. This meant a lot more “AR Shuffle” running. The navigation on this leg was also much more straightforward than the first leg with a road in a valley as a large “catch/backstop,” so mistakes were harder to make and wouldn’t be very costly. All that means this was a “speed leg”.
I really enjoy when race directors focus on designing different types of legs within the same race. Too often you get races that are just “long distance” or “tricky nav” or some “style” that fits that race director. The best race I have ever done was GodZone, which had a completely different feel on every leg of the race. Primal Quest was also great in that sort of sense, but in a “over the top awesome PQ way” (and by that less manageable for many teams).
So the first foot leg was long, night and extremely important to always keep track of your location. This foot leg was basically a hammer-fest for 37k. This means that you as a racer and as a team have to adapt to the style of the leg. This adds an extra element of both tactics and strategy in a race.
Did we do a good job of hammering? I think we did – especially considering we didn’t know how much of the race was left. Overall I would give us a thumb up.
Once we finished the leg we got UTM coordinates for everything back to the finish line and knew that it was only ~100k between us and the finish. First stop was Taos, and while we are there, we grabbed a burger and a milkshake. With only 10h to go I was a little antsy to keep moving, but this burger stop turned out to pay back big time. How you ask? – Well we first face a 2,200 vertical feet climb and after the first 1,000 feet, my teammates somehow transformed into Chris Froome and Alberto Contador.
Climbing on bike in AR is usually done slow and systematically at constant speed. There are no peletons and no break-aways to cover, just highest average speed up the hill that counts. My teammates seemed to set out to change that. Tommy (who just finished 12 min behind Dave Zabriskie less than a month ago at The Leadville 100) showed that very few can push the same wattage out of the saddle as he raced cars up the hill. Whitney, who refuses to do a MTB race (she has done one, which she won) and her biking skills can only be found on some segments on Strava (hint: you basically have to be a pro roadbiker to beat some of her climbing segments) finds that instead of calling him back she needs to “cover the break.” Apparently we have gone from a “let’s take this home” mentality to “let’s pretend this is a Tour.” At that point I had burned all my matches (Swedish expression) and was just working as hard as I could to try to keep up.
This continued over the next couple of hours (and 7,500 vertical feet) until we were in a state where Whitney was carrying my backpack and Tommy’s attempt to be like Contador came to an end. Just like in the Tour, Froome (Whitney) was the winner and she led a quickly deteriorating peloton of two towards the finish line. I was relived of everything except the map and navigation. Tommy was slowly descending into Czech-world and started communicating only in Czech, which as funny until he gave no indication of understanding English. He also talked a lot to imaginary people – which most of us AR folks have been known to do at certain times. Somehow (caffeine maybe?), he turned things around once we approach the finish line and was good for the last hour of the race. These last hours are some of my strongest memories of the race — our team living in some sort of “crazy enchanted world” with teammates in different states of disarray, trying to get to the finish line.
Crossing the finish line right after midnight gave us a finishing time of right over 53h clearing the course. To make it even better Whitney’s and Tommy’s families were there celebrating our victory as we, totally exhausted, entered the last campground.
We love NM and it was too bad that more racers didn’t get to see this part of the US — which is just amazing and so special. A huge thanks to Toby and Happy Mutant for putting on a race in such a cool part of the country and taking a risk, setting a course in a place that is hard to travel to – but truly unique. As always we would also like to highlight our clothes from MontBell US. Wool shirts for the night, rain jackets for the storms, sleeping bags for the rest and ultralight puffys for when you are freezing – their gear is truly “light and fast” and we can’t recommend it higher.
We are a little uncertain which race is next for us, but feel we are in better shape and faster than ever. We are looking forward to a really interesting 2017 — especially with World Championships on home turf!
Olof Hedberg – NYARA Team Captain