Race Report: HMARS Mojave

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Dude – where is my water ???

NYARA recently raced in the Happy Mutant Mojave desert race. One of the most scenic and desolated races we have ever done. We have a fantastic photogallery from the race thanks to race photographer Ken Moehn. I usually say that pictures doesn’t do it justice – but Ken has captured the landscape amazingly and you can relive our struggles through his lens.

Photogallery here: (FB gallery coming soon)

Full race report is found here: hmar-mojave-desert

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Gear Review: Montbell Downhugger

MontBell Alpine Downhugger 800 Thermal Sheet

I have had the opportunity to race with the Alpine Downhugger 800 Thermal sheet from MotnBell US for almost 18 months now and I think I have reached the point of use where I can write a review of why I think this is the best off-the-shelf solution for adventure racing as well as a fantastic sleeping bag for your camping, hiking and bike packing trips.

First I want to start with some background. As the team captain for New York Adventure Racing Association I have the opportunity race adventure races all over the world. A requirement from the AR World Series is that in many races we have to carry a sleeping bag with a minimum weight of 400 grams. The MontBell Downhugger thermal sheet fits that category perfectly as it weights in at 427gr. On my kitchen scale the actual weight is often somewhere between 435gr – 445gr depending on how much dirt is in the bag.

As an ultralight bag, one would think this is only something that can be used for adventure racing and ultralight backpacking but I have used it in a number of situations: car-camping the south island of New Zealand, climbing and mountain biking trips in Moab, Utah, a mountain biking hut-trip, and hiking in the Swedish mountains. On top of that it has served me well in adventure races like Primal Quest in Lake Tahoe, GodZone in New Zealand and the Happy Mutant races in Utah and New Mexico.

I have no idea how many “nights” I have spent in the bag – but if you count the 90-180 min sleep you usually take per night in AR as “nights” – it is a lot of them. At least it is too many for me to count.

First – let’s start with the best. If you are reading this you probably already know you want something ultra-light but you don’t want to throw away your money on something that doesn’t help when you are cold. This is the bag for you! The weight speaks for itself but it is filled with 800 fill power goose down. This makes it incredibly warm for the weight. The warmth rating is at 50F/10C, but I would say it is ok at way colder temperatures. As an example I slept in it (granted together with the MontBell Plasma 1000 puffy) at the top of a mesa in Utah in January at 15F/ -10C, with no tent or any other protection from the elements. That is 35F colder than it’s rating! Was this a cozy and warm experience? – no, but it was completely doable. I’m constantly surprised how warm it is for the weight and on many adventures there is just no reason not to bring this little “life-saver”.

While I talk about warmth – I need to point out one thing right away. There is no hood. Would it be possible to construct a warm sleeping bag for $200 that also weights 400gr and has a hood. Probably not – I haven’t seen one. This bag is not meant for situations like winter camping or sleeping out in the open when the temperatures are in the teens (even though I did). If that is what you are looking for – this is not for you. This is the lightest possible bag that will keep you warm overnight and allow you to keep moving light and fast through the environment or towards your objective.

MontBell has a patented spiral stretch system. This gives the bag a little more extra stretch than a “normal” sleeping bag. It is actually a nice feature and somewhat of an extra plus, but for me it’s not the selling point of this bag. If you are having leg cramps during the night it helps slightly, but overall the difference between it and a normal bag is not enough to tip the scale. Again – this bag is unbeatable because the weight and the warmth, not for any special features.

One last thing I want to talk about – it’s durability. This was a non-factor when researching sleeping bags for us. We wanted light and warm. If it broke down on us after a week of use we would have been ok with it, as with most high level racing equipment the focus is going extremely fast and not durability. This is true for your running shoes, bike, Formula-1 car and your adventure racing gear as well. I have now slept in this right on ground in a gravel pit, on a soccer field, beside a forest trail and multiple other places. Somehow it doesn’t show any extreme wear and tear. Anyone who knows me knows that I rely pretty heavily on my equipment, which is basically a nice way of saying that I’m ok with abusing my equipment equally hard as I’m abusing my body during races. Somehow this bag still looks new-ish. I might just be really lucky with this one – but it has definitely been a huge surprise to me. We do take care of the bags immaculately between uses, dry and store in a non-compressed state in a dark place without large temperature swings – but we do this with all our bags. So the fact that this looks like it just came from the store even though it has traveled the US and the world is fantastic and not what I would expect for an ultralight bag.

So, is this bag for you? If you are an adventure racers – YES! It’s basically impossible to find something better unless you have an enormous budget and can put in the time and effort to have custom made bags for you team. If you want to have something that is warm and light, carry your own stuff for long distances or have remote objectives – absolutely. If you need a hood and don’t mind to carry extra weight for some extra comfort – please look somewhere else. This bag is not for everyone or for every occasion (even though I seem to treat it like that sometimes) but it is the best bag in its category.

Olof Hedberg – NYARA Team Captain.

How to Make Any Bed Comfortable – Team NYARA Heads to the Bluegrass State

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By: Eric Caravella

Several months ago, Olof, Whitney and I decided to plan a little trip for the first weekend in October. “Where should we go?” I asked.

“I hear Pineville, Kentucky is lovely that time of year,” said Whitney. And since you simply don’t argue with Whitney, even when she does something as ridiculous as suggest Kentucky for our little getaway, it was settled. We booked a cabin and our trip to Pine Mountain State Resort Park was on the calendar.

We arrived, and the cabin seemed rustic and lovely. Olof and Whitney took the bedroom. Ever the third wheel, I was relegated to the pull-out couch. We tested out our beds and were less than thrilled. Olof and Whitney’s had a cavernous depression in the middle which forcibly smushed the two of them together. My pull-out felt like truck springs thinly covered with a sheet of cotton, my ribs and spine were not pleased with the prospect of spending three nights on that torture device.

I groaned, “How are we going to sleep in these conditions? I don’t know about you two, but I’m used to a certain standard of living and these mattresses do NOT measure up!”

Olof chimed in, “This may sound silly, but I heard there was some sort of race going on here this weekend. If we tire ourselves out enough, perhaps we won’t mind our uncomfortable beds.”

“That sounds perfect!” Whitney exclaimed. “It just so happens we have two cars full of gear that will be perfect for this so-called ‘adventure racing!’ And we will even be racing overnight, so one less night sleeping in these awful beds!”

And so it came to be that we entered the USARA Adventure Racing National Championships.

nats10Stephanie Ross (of Flying Squirrel Adventures) was this year’s Race Director, and she put together an interesting course sure to challenge the 60 or so teams that showed up from around the country. The field of competition would be tough, so we had our work cut out for us. We wouldn’t receive our maps until the morning of the race start, so we had plenty of time to fiddle with food and gear the day before. Strategizing is tricky without maps, but we received enough clues to put together what we thought would be a good plan. It seemed clear that the race organizers expected us to carry most of what we needed throughout the race as there would be no access to gear bins, so in a lot of ways that made planning easy.

nats5We decided that between the three of us, we would have one big pack (for Olof the Super-Swede), one small pack (for Eric the Not-So-Super-Runner) and one running vest (for Super-Whitney so she could afford to take my pack when I got super lazy). I, for one, loved this plan. The only problem was when Olof felt less “Super-Swedish” than normal and the heavy pack ended up on MY back. Then I was cursing that strategy. But, that’s why we race as a team. Or so I’m told.

nats7The running prologue went swimmingly. And I say swimmingly, because parts were actually more of a swim than a run. I didn’t mention that it had been raining the whole week leading up to the race, and the forecast called for rain throughout the whole race weekend. We were in for a cold and wet 24 hours. We got to our canoes and set out on the river paddle only a couple of minutes behind the leaders. Paddling has never been our strong suit, so we spent most of this leg just trying to go straight and not flip. A couple teams passed us, but we didn’t lose too much time to the leaders.

nats8Next came the King of the Mountain leg.. a bike ride up a roughly 5 mile switch-backy hill that just seemed relentless. Fortunately, I was thankful for the opportunity to warm up and felt pretty good on the bike. Olof, on the other hand, was not feeling this bike ride. I spent a little time pushing him but soon realized it would be better off to just take his pack. After that we moved pretty well, and ended up with one of the fastest KOM times of the field.

nats4At the top of the mountain, we dumped any non-mandatory weight and made a speedy transition to foot. This was a short 1.5 hour O course with a ton of steep hills. We flip-flopped with a few teams but ended up coming out in 5th place. Then it was time for the misery to begin.

The rain continued as we approached the big bike leg of the race, 5 hours on the dirt roads of a local “off-road park” that used to be a strip mine, but is now evidently where the local Kentuckyans bring their 4-wheelers and coolers of Natty Ice. On the surface, it was apparent this leg would be tricky because (due to the fact that it was a strip mine, and everything had been dug up) the contour lines would be wholly unreliable and we would need to navigate primarily by trail markings. When we arrived, we realized that the REAL reason this leg would be tricky, is that it had been raining for a week and the place was a mud pit. I kept the MonsterPack (which was now soaking wet), and Olof focused on not getting us lost. With the exception of one little hiccup, he did a great job of keeping us from spending more time than necessary in those god-awful bogs they call dirt roads. By the end of the ride, the mud had rendered our bikes virtually unidentifiable. And by the grace of some higher power, we suffered a grand total of zero mechanical problems. I was amazed.

Time for the second paddle of the race, on flat water this time and…. (you guessed it!) in the rain. I was dreading this paddle because I was certain we’d get there in the dark and it would be cold and tricky navigation, but it turned out to be quite a nice, placid lake paddle. Plus, we managed the whole thing in the daylight and actually ended up with the second fastest time on this leg! Quite an accomplishment for the paddle-averse NYARA!

We got back on our bikes and had to go up another hill. Olof’s tire decided to randomly spring a leak on the pavement, which I found especially odd considering how resilient our bikes had been during the previous leg. I stuck a tube in his wheel and we were back on our way. We took a little detour through an apartment complex because the trailhead we were looking for wasn’t immediately apparent, but once we were on the right track we could properly suffer our way up the (muddy) monster of a hill. The descent off this hill was steep and more than a bit slick, so it took us a little extra time to pick our way down without any catastrophes. We lost some time on this leg, but got into the last TA at Pine Mountain Lodge primed for the final leg, a long foot O course that was sure to be the crux of the race.

We took a few minutes in TA to change socks and prep our feet, and then we were back at it with packs as light as we dared. We left the TA at the same time as Team Kuat, tied for 6th. We approached the first attack point, and with some double checking between Olof and me, we chose a spot and began bushwhacking. We found the first CP with little problem, and then continued our bushwhack descent down a steep re-entrant utterly choked with mountain laurel and other various unfriendlies. Our progress was much slower than we would have liked, and those unavoidable doubts about our route choice began creeping into our heads. But we held firm as we were confident with our direction, and the foliage started to open up near the bottom near where we figured the second CP should be. Another team ran into us and continued down the same path. But then we hit a road, (our backstop), and we hadn’t seen the CP. The other team continued on. Why hadn’t we seen it? Back up the re-entrant we went, this time stopping to more carefully assess a minor divide in the ravine, and when I checked up a less prominent re-entrant to the right, I stumbled right onto the orange flag. 20 or 30 minutes lost. Not ideal, but not the end of the world.

We continued on. Olof made the navigation a team sport, and with all of us in touch with the map we were spot on. We ran everything but the steep uphills. We crossed paths with the team that passed us in the ravine, and got an extra charge of adrenaline to stay out in front of them for the rest of the race. We kept checking over our shoulders, certain that there was a team right behind us. We ran our hearts out all the way to the finish line where we found out that not only had we held off Team Kuat, but we jumped ahead of Checkpoint Zero for a 5th place finish overall. (A review of the record after the fact revealed that the 6th place team came in over an hour after us. We’re not really sure which “team” we kept seeing right behind us. It’s entirely possible we were hallucinating).

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It was 3:30am and we were soggy, muddy, sore and tired. But thrilled with our Top 5 finish. And not only that, but the points we gained bumped us up to 3rd overall in the USARA Rankings! An awesome finish to a great year of racing.

But now, the moment you have all been waiting for. The answer you have been desperately seeking. The reason you have read this entire stupid race report. It was time to put our theory to test… was it possible to sleep in our beds (aka medieval torture devices) after pushing our bodies to the max for almost 20 hours?

VERDICT: YES!! We are happy to report that adventure racing makes it possible to sleep anywhere. However, we discovered a problem with our methods. While redlining for 20 hours makes sleep come easy, it also makes every other daily function unbelievably painful. You know, like walking. Or bending over. The day after the race I dropped a $20 bill on the ground and considered just leaving it there.

Oh well. No one ever said we were brilliant for participating in this crazy sport.

nats1Big ups and mad props to my awesome team the Hedbergs. It was swell racing with you, as always. And from all of us, huge thanks to Stephanie Ross and her staff, the volunteers, to NYARA and MontBell. Thank you everyone for making all of this glorious suffering possible. We wouldn’t be nearly as miserable without you.

2014 in Review

NYARA had a banner year in 2014! Congrats to all the members of Team NYARA for racing hard, pushing limits and taking podiums. One of the strengths of Team NYARA is the size and breadth of the team. This year we had several teams racing under the Team NYARA banner in races all over the country–even one in Belize!

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Here’s a rundown of the results:

Team NYARA — Olof Hedberg Team Captain

1st Place NAARS Championship (ENDRacing)
(Eric Caravella, Whitney Hedberg, Mikael Mattsson)

2nd Place Cradle of Liberty (G.O.A.L.S)
(Mikal Davis, Whitney Hedberg)

3rd Place Mayan Mountain Challenge Belize (NAARS/AAS)
(Jason Brown, Whitney Hedberg, Mikael Mattsson)

3rd American Team (11th Place Overall) Untamed New England (ARWS)
(Eric Caravella, Whitney Hedberg, Bruce Swanson)

Team NYARA — Eric Caravella Team Captain

1st Place The Savage (G.O.A.L.S)
(Mikael Mattsson)

4th Place (2nd place two person coed) Krista Griersacker Memorial AR (G.O.A.L.S.)
(Ann Marie Joyce-Hunt)

5th Place Lionheart 24 hour (NAARS/AAS)
(Mikal Davis, Cara Guilfoyle)

Team NYARA/Krell Adventures — Rodney Villella Team Captain

3rd Place Masters Division USARA National Championships
(Amy Bartoletti, Bruce Swanson)

6th American Team (16th overall) Untamed New England (ARWS)
(Amy Bartoletti, Jonathan Neeley, Pete Spagnoli)

Team NYARA — Brice Wilson Team Captain

3rd Place The Jersey Inferno (NYARA)
(Mikal Davis, Cara Guilfoyle)

5th Place The Longest Day (NYARA)
(Mikal Davis, Cara Guilfoyle)

11th Place USARA National Chamionships
(Mikal Davis, Cara Guilfoyle)

Great season Team NYARA! Looking forward to all the fun and adventure 2015 will bring.

Race Report: NAARS Championships – A Badlands Sufferfest

NAARS Championships 2014 — North Dakota

Was this the best 1-2 day course ever designed? Possibly.

Was it the best 1-2 day course we have ever done? Without a doubt!

A simple race report will never be able to capture what we saw during ~26h of hammering through the badlands of North Dakota – but we will try. A ton of thanks are in order – I’ll get to that in the end – but I need to mention one right away, Legendary Randy Ericksen is responsible for all photos in this report. You can see all his photos from the race here.

The whole team studying the maps. This is going to be a big course!

The whole team studying the maps. This is going to be a big course!

The team is starting to behave like a well oiled machine before the race. Everyone has their own tasks — I worry about the race and count down the minutes until I can get the maps, Mikael and Eric take care of bikes, Whitney works out all the logistics. Once we finally got the maps at 4.00 pm everything was ready and we started pouring over the race course. Like any adventure race, it is a relief when you finally get to see the map, make your time estimates and see if you can stick to your pre-planned strategy. Here ours was to go fast, eat little, keep packs light and hammer as hard as we could to the dark zone. We went to bed surprisingly early and all had a “good” night’s sleep.

Night flaas over North Dakota's Badlands

Night falls over North Dakota’s Badlands

Morning rose over the Maah Daah Hey trail. The race started with 35 miles of single track on the trail. Our plan was to take it easy during the first third or so – just to see that everything was in working order and then make sure everyone was fit for fight. After that, the hammer fest began. The scenery was amazing. Luck wasn’t really on our side–we got two flats and dropped from first to third place both times. Rev3 with the Courain brothers (Aaron and John) and Julia Pollock and Journey Racing with AR legend, Danelle Ballengee, Fletcher Hamel, and Ian Hoag were always close behind and passed us during both our flats.

Briefly in the lead - on our way to our second flat, so we could drop down to third place again. Seriously - the landscape was amazing. Never experienced such a beautiful first leg of an AR race.

Briefly in the lead – on our way to our second flat, so we could drop down to third place again. Seriously – the landscape was amazing. Never experienced such a cool first leg of an AR race.

Towards the end of the section all three teams looked significantly tired and there was suffering all around. On the positive side – we had put a huge gap to the rest of the field and it would basically be a 3 team race from here on.

The next section was one of the coolest foot sections we have ever done. Ridges and canyons stretched out over the landscape and 95% of the travel was off trail. We headed out first on the section with Journey a couple of minutes behind. After checking the first CP we took a bearing towards CP 2 – it was a Class III ridge scramble down to it. While none of us lead 5.12 trad climbs, all of us are pretty comfortable in the mountains and thought we kept good speed down the ridge. To our surprise – Journey came flying down the same ridge and almost caught us. Very impressive speed from them in such a “high consequence area.”

It is a lot harder to keep your balance when you are so tired that you have problem standing up straight.

It is a lot harder to keep your balance when you are so tired that you have problem standing up straight.

The section continued and as we took the next couple of CPs our teams were never more than a couple of minutes apart. We both started climbing the same Class III reentrant together and both teams basically gave up on getting a gap during the section, so we start traveling together. We met Rev3, who were doing the section in reverse order, near our second to last CP — which was the last time we saw them during the race.

Yep - one CP was on each of the ridge lines. While navigation was pretty straight forward on this section route choice was critical. Descisions had o be made each minute of what would be the fastest. Scramble up/run around/minimize vertical. Brain was working constantly.

Yep – basically one CP on each of the ridge lines. While navigation was pretty straight forward on this section – route choice was critical. Decisions had to be made each minute of what would be the fastest. Scramble up/run around/minimize vertical. Brain was working constantly. Also anyone afraid of heights would not have done well here.

As we checked in to the TA we are told by race director Andy that the next 40 miles is mostly be on dirt roads. Great – quick miles is our first thought. I bet Andy would laugh really hard if he had seen us after an hour. Hiking our bikes over some sort of washed out trail, which was occasionally closed off with barb wire. Not what we expected, but that is why it is called adventure racing, right? After about 20 miles, the roads opened up and we started pushing toward the next TA. As night fell we saw Journey Racing’s headlamps behind us. Sometimes close, sometimes farther away. We overshot one CP a little and that allowed enough time for both teams to reunite again. We rode the last 10 miles towards the TA within a minute of each other. At this point, I hit my deepest bottom in adventure racing so far. My legs could hardly push down on the pedals. I handed my backpack over to Eric (who biked with two) and he and Mikael took turns pushing me up the hills. It was just something I had to work through — and now with hindsight it is funny to know that less than two hours later I would be the strongest person on the team.

Night falls over the race course. Biking past oil fileds breathing fire out into the night was a memory we will never forget.

Night falls over the race course. Biking past oil fields breathing fire out into the night was a memory we will never forget.

One of the things I love about racing with NYARA is that all pride is left at the door. If you are tired you hand your backpack over to the strongest racer. This is not something that is ever argued about or even discussed. It is what we do and it helps to maximize our speed. Often that means that I carry two backpacks at some point during a race. This time it meant that my teammates took my backpack and towed me. Since I started racing with Whitney I have said that this moment will come “at some race at some point I will be the weak one and you will have to take care of me.” Well, it happened and it was amazing to see how quickly and seamlessly the rest of the team helped me through it. It is truly an amazing experience to be the weak one because afterwards you know you couldn’t have done it without the rest of the team. We rolled in to the TA after about 12 hours of racing. During those 12 hours the difference between us and Journey had never been more than 5 minutes. It started being comical – we joked that they had a secret teleporter because as soon as we thought we had gotten them out of sight they managed to pop back up.

Eric getting ready for the night trek. Fast TAs are a key to our success.

Eric getting ready for the night trek. Fast TAs are a key to our success.

Mikael and myself working together to shave off a couple of more seconds of our TA time. We are still unaware of how much determination and pain will be required to get through the next couple of hours.

Mikael and myself working together to shave off a couple of more seconds of our TA time. We are still unaware of how much determination and pain will be required to get through the next couple of hours.

The next section was a night foot-o rogaine, with some interesting night scrambles and a lot of route choices — we knew from early on this would be the crux of the race. We headed out first, but both we and Journey overshot the first CP,  so we were back together again. Going over how many times the lead shifted during this section would be impossible and boring. It was a night of despair (when we thought we had lost them in front of us), hope (when we thought we had lost them behind us), speed (running close to 6-7 minute miles after 12h of racing on trails), complete tiredness and as we approached CP 4, more self inflicted fear than we have ever experienced in an adventure race.

So by the time we hit CP 4 – there were only two CP’s left. We approached the CP and and saw an enormous ridge shooting up out of the landscape. As we shined our lights on the ridge (which at some points is a knife edge) we saw Journey Racing (who is now in the lead) looking like three small fireflies clinging to the side of the ridge. We climbed after them and noticed that the ridge wall is close to vertical. I got up to the lowest part of the ridge and threw one leg over. Sitting with one leg on each side of the wall I shined my light trying to find the CP. I realized it must be higher. I climbed after Journey higher up the ridge and screamed to my team to follow. About 300 feet higher up the ridge we found the CP and I got up there just as Journey punched and headed out to pick up the last two CPs. We were not more than a couple of minutes behind. The rest of the team gets up to the CP after the somewhat terrifying scramble and everyone looked at each other. Eric spoke first, “I almost died!” Turns out he climbed the east side of ridge, instead of the easier west side. His side was basically Class V climbing on crumbling sand stone. Whitney had moved along the knife edge basically hugging it – with one leg and one arm on each side before semi-intentionally sliding down the less steep side. All of it Insane.

With two CPs to go and Journey a couple of minutes ahead there was no time to stand around and share stories of how frightened we all had been. Journey had taken a direct route over another ridge to the second to last CP – we decided to run around instead. After we climbed down, we took out the tow ropes and ran faster than we ever have during night navigation. As we hit the CP we didn’t see any headlamps ahead of us and then had only one CP left between us and the dark zone. As we headed off for the last one, we saw Journey coming over the ridge about 5 min behind us. We pushed, tore our clothes, screamed, pushed some more and battled our way towards the TA and the dark zone. Finally, I could payback my team for their help while I was dead — it was my turn to carry two backpacks. We ran and powerhiked the last 3 miles to the dark zone knowing that every minute counted. It was intense. When we checked in at the dark zone we all fell down lying in the cold night with heartrates towards 180 bpm — unable to do anything other than scream out our joy over being first (well, I guess I was the only one who screamed, but we were all beyond relieved). We had three and a half hours of rest off the clock until we needed to get going again. Every minute Journey wasn’t there was one minute they needed to beat us with after the rest.

It took Journey 18 more minutes than us to complete the “first day.” This was the biggest gap we had all day – but it was nowhere near enough time to make us comfortable. In AR 18 minutes can disappear with one wrong look at the map.

Feeling like we just had gone to war and come back home alive we dragged our sleeping bags out of our TA box and set the alarm clock for 5.00 am – over 2h of sleep in a 34h race – and it was the best feeling in the world.

The next morning we woke and got ready to leave when the dark zone would open at 6.00 am. No other team was in yet – so it was clear that the two team race would continue with at least 3.5h down to third place. Six miles downhill on gravel and asphalt roads brought us to the paddle put in. Journey hit the TA right behind us. Our plan was to continue to race aggressively, be first on the water and control the race from there. A silly fast TA gave us a 3-5 min gap at the put in. Then we started an amazing, and amazingly cold paddle. Well it was amazingly cold for me, because I jumped out of the canoe into the water a couple of times – once to save a paddle, and others to drag the canoe out of sand bars.

Sun rises over little missouri river.

Sun rises over little missouri river.

Let me tell you - the water is not super warm when you get in it.

Let me tell you – the water is not super warm when you get in it – and those sand bars are not as easy to see when it is pitch black.

As the sun slowly rose, I stopped shivering. Our spirits rose as we seemed to put time on Journey – and by the time we reached the only CP on the 18 mile paddle (which was up on a hill) we had about 7-10 minutes on them.  Mikael our master paddler, directed the team and for the last part on Lake Sakakawea we put our heads down, pushed hard and tried to ignore our aching bodies.

Finishing up the paddle

Finishing up the paddle

Fighting faces.

Fighting faces.

The last 20 miles of biking was more a formality. It started out with a huge climb up from the river/lake – but being so close that we could taste the win put a smile on every one’s face.

No one behind us, as we are climbing up the last hill!

No one behind us, as we are climbing up the last big hill!

I don't know if we have ever done a 2 mile climb with so tired bodies - and it has felt so easy. Probably because we allowed ourselves to slow down for the first time in the race.

I don’t know if we have ever done a 2 mile climb with such tired bodies – and it felt so easy. Probably because we allowed ourselves to slow down for the first time in the race :-).

Almost all smiles.

Almost all smiles.

As the climb mellowed out – it was just 18 miles “rolling” terrain home – all on roads. Sometimes 18 miles of biking feels long – but compared to the rest of this course, it sounded like a Sunday morning picnic.

Wind in our backs and the climb behind us!

Wind in our backs and the climb behind us!

We put up a pace line but couldn’t muster the energy for an all out effort. Instead it was all high fives, smiles and stories.

Approaching the finish line. We are giving out high fives like they are free.

Approaching the finish line. We are giving out high fives like they are free.

Crossing the finish line was so incredibly wonderful. We have never had a better race and even better, the finish was completely a team effort.

2014 NAARS Champions ! It's a dirty job but someone gotta do it.

2014 NAARS Champions ! It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.

A true team effort

A true team effort

What we all have been thinking of over the last 26h - The finish line!

What we all have been thinking of over the last 26h – The finish line!

Securing the NAARS trophy was the perfect ending on our first season with NYARA.

Sweetest trophy ever!

Sweetest trophy ever!

First of all we want to thank Andy Magness and ENDRacing for making the race course unbelievable. It was a true race – with sections of complete hammer fest. It was also a true adventure – where you sometime doubted if the outcome would be success or a short trip to the hospital. Not only did you put “Adventure” race in Adventure Racing – you also put “Race” into it. An amazing accomplishment.
Second – Doug Crytzer and NAARS – your energy and effort to grow the sport and bring it back to where it belongs is amazing. Team NYARA is trying to do everything we can to help you in that task.
Third – All the volunteers. Nothing but smiles the entire race. Clear communications and directives. Thank you for all your time and positive energy!
Last – NYARA as an organization (and Denise Mast), who supports us racing – without you none of this would be possible!

Looking forward to 2015!!!!

Check out the results with splits HERE

NAARS Championship in North Dakota

Team NYARA is at again. This time Olof and Whitney Hedberg along with Eric Caravella and Mikael Mattsson are headed to North Dakota to race. The team is currently pretty spread out — Mikael is in Sweden, Eric is in New Jersey and the Hedbergs are in Breckenridge. Needless to say, there have been nearly endless emails in preparation.

This team is super excited for this race — which features the famous Maah Daah Hey mountain bike trail. We thought it might be fun to take a peak into their preparations…and they seem organized, sort of. 🙂

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Good luck Team NYARA!!

Race Report: 2014 Team Death Race

Team NYARA members Chris Rice and Bruce Swanson recently WON! He Team Death Race. Chris breaks this crazy race down for us here. Would any of you readers out there consider doing a race like this?

Team members:
Chris Rice (me), Bruce Swanson, Mike Shaddow, Billy Richards

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I will do my best to get the order of this stuff right, but I could have some things off….I was tired and sweaty for much of the weekend…..
This team was thrown together in a bit of a rush due to schedule changes and conflicts with the first team members (originally team peak). Bruce and Billy were signed up for the Spartan race that Sunday, so they were OK to bump up to the death race. I had another team member drop Monday night and Mike agreed on Tuesday to step in for the race…with two days to prep…..
Due to work/family conflicts, Bruce, Mike and I all drove up Friday morning. Billy headed up Thursday so he could get to the 6:00am meeting Friday. While in the car, Billy sent us a note that our “plush toy” had to be 60 lbs. We were able to stop at a hardware store and buy a 60lb bag of sand, which was a good thing as long as we could keep it dry. We arrived last to the location, at about 10:45 with a start of 12:00, and found that we had already missed out on PT and that we would have to wait until the race started to make it up. Although this kind of sucked, we had 48 hours to make up the gap (which turned out to be over an hour).
Everybody got introduced to Billy and we quickly got ready for the race. We were parked at the top of Tweed River Rd, but the race would start and be managed out of Joe’s cabin on the top of the mountain. So, we had to drag all of our gear, our new 60 lb toy (which was now a bag of sand with a stuffed snake taped to it), 4 twelve ft 2×6 boards, a blue barrel (we used a large trash can for this), 4 tools, and a ton of rope up to the top of the mountain. Quick weigh-in….If your toy didn’t weigh at least 60 lbs, you got 1000 burpees for the team….(only one team had this).
The race started with probably 40 minutes of meditation, thinking/talking about death and life, Johnny Waite (race director) was planting seeds that we would come back to many times throughout the race. Joe D also made his only appearance here….Once the meditation was done, we were told that we would have to “stretcher” our toy around a roughly 5 mile loop on our 12 foot boards. This was the first of our engineering challenges and Bruce and Mike would do very well in these every time one came up. We set up our stretcher and started down the trail, but had to do our PT test, so this gave us about an hour delay behind everyone else (there were two other teams that had missed as well). Mike does a lot of crossfit stuff, so he did the PT (and killed it). We slogged around the loop, trying to make up time, but the weight and the awkward nature of the boards in the trail made it difficult.
When we returned to the cabin, we began our memorization challenges. We would get a passage from a poem or book and have to memorize and then recite this back in order to progress. Our plan was for me to do the memorization and then have Mike and Bruce plan out the solution for the next leg of the race. This strategy allowed us to get through transitions pretty fast.
Next challenge would be the biggest pain in the butt of the race. We were told that we had to create “skis” out of the boards, tie ourselves together at the ankles, and reverse the 5 mile loop we just did. We started with tape, which came off, then we moved to rope, which would slip off, and we kept stepping on the ropes between us. I was in the back of the line with the 60lb toy and complained, yelled, cursed a lot during this section. I was, without a doubt, the weak link here. Even though I was a loser and cry baby in this section, we did make steady progress and got past a couple more teams…making our way into the middle of the pack.
Next challenge was for three of us to hike the green arrows trail and for one person to stay behind for a mental challenge. Me, Bruce, and Billy went out on foot and Mike stayed back. The green arrows were almost non-existent and we only found three of them out on the trails, so we were back in about two hours. Mike never caught up to us, which he thought was mandatory, so we ended up waiting at the cabin for an hour for him to return. This section reshuffled the deck and we lost a lot of the ground we had made up.
Next we were told that we had to go down to the General Store in town and get a picture of our toy in one of the rocking chairs on the front porch. Problem was that we didn’t have a camera, so we tried to catch one of the teams in front of us….no luck….we ended up waiting at the store for a half hour for the team behind us to come and let us use their camera for a pic (very nice of them).
We came back to the cabin and were told that we had to collect “at least” 50 lbs of firewood and that anything below would mean 1000 burpees. We were also tied to a single board while gathering wood, which made it difficult. Two trips out and back with our barrel and we were done….we covered this pretty well.
Once back with the wood, we were told to head back out onto the 5 mile loop and hike it with our hands still tied to the board and our 60lb toy with us (having this toy with us meant that we could almost never actually run). We did well here as we were efficient and moving the pack between the group and we got back to the top of the mountain back in the lead.
When we returned, we were told that we would have to climb up either of two trees about 30 feet and tie a lace on a branch. All 4 people had to do this. This was right up our alley….Mike climbed one tree with a rope and I climbed the other one. He looped the rope on a higher branch and then we harnessed Bill and Bruce and they both climbed quickly. This took us only about 15 minutes and we were off to the next section.
We next ran down to the general store for a dozen eggs. Since we didn’t have any cash, we got one of the medics to give us 20 bucks, but we had to get some breakfast sandwiches made for them….
Back up the mountain with a bunch of eggs. We had a eat one raw then put an egg in our mouth without breaking it and do 20 min of squats. We were supposed to memorize something here, but we were screwing around too much (laughing a lot) and forgot the line. So, we next had to do 4 min plank with the egg in our mouth….then we got the memorization correct. Then we had to eat the egg. This section was actually fun, we laughed a lot and interacted with the volunteers and medics, which was cool.
We were next told to head down the mountain and to meet someone at the covered bridge. Turned out we would be under the covered bridge….in the river. The river was low 40s and it was windy, so we knew that this was going to suck. We did 20 min of stuff in and out of the water, totally submerged, and in the sand and rocks on the bank (including putting sand and rocks into our pants). Once we got through this, we had to hike about 1.5 miles in the river. This was tough because the rocks were slippery and, like always, we had the 60 lb toy. We met up with a couple more volunteers (they were awesome) in the river and had to do another set of water exercises.
Next, we had to make our way back to the cabin but were not allowed to go by the farms, so it was right up the mountain. Since I had done the winter race, I remembered a way to go quickly up the steep part of the mountain and get our blood flowing again. Problem for me here…..my feet….carrying the toy in the river and then up the mountain with wet/sandy shoes gave me pretty good blisters. This actually didn’t cause as much of an issue as I thought it would, but it was stuck in my brain now.
When we got back to the top of the mountain, we changed into warm/dry clothes and got something to eat, knowing that we had made it through the “misery” section of the race and we were still going strong.
Next challenge was PT at the stump dump with Mark Jones. Hiked down there and had some light left, which was nice. Here is what we had to do:
Get 4 pallets and 4 stacks of 10 pieces of wood.
Do the “stump dump challenge”. This was tough…..here is what it was made up of:
Large Tire Flip (75m out and back)
2.) Large Stone Carry (75m out and back)
3.) Small Tire Flip (75m out and back)
4.) Small Stone Carry (75m out and back)
5.) Tire Drag (100m out and back / around waist / no hands)
6.) Large Stone Carry (75m out and back)
7.) Overhead Tire Carry (75m out and back / arms straight
8.) Pipe Drag (100m out and back)
9.) Rock Box / 5 Rocks varying sizes (75m out and back)
10.) Small Stone Carry (75m out and back
We had to do this 4 times between us. Billy and Mike were awesome here….able to complete solo and then as a pair with me and Bruce.
Do a “like piece” challenge with large wood sections.
Throw large concrete 400 times
Move/stack 20+ large tires
Move a ton of pipes (this sucked)
Do squat thrusts with a beam that was probably 200lbs or so and 30 feet long, but felt larger.
This section took us probably 4 hours, but was also pretty fun. Was cool to be working with Mark and the volunteers and the challenges were definitely hard.
We cruised back up the mountain to the cabin and were told we had to hike back down the mountain and up Lower Michigan, but we had to do so in a “ladder” that we had to make out of the boards we had left and that we had to carry all of our gear. This would be logistically our most difficult structure to build. We ended up putting most of the weight and wood into the barrel and tying that into the ladder in the middle. We ran the wood through the straps of our packs, allowing the weight to distribute across us. While this likely made the carrying more even, it meant that we were in this structure until completion. This sucked for a lot of reasons….One, it took 5 hours and we moved slowly both down and up the mountain. Two, I am probably 5 inches taller than everyone else on the team, meaning that the weight (200+ lbs) was moving around. Three, every movement had to be coordinated…..which was OK on the road, but difficult on trails with loose ground.
We finally made it to the top of the mountain and we had a finally literary challenge.
Write some final words in retrospect of the race, on death and dying.
What would you do in 6 months that would literally change your life?
We turned these in and Johnny presented us with our skulls, roughly 42 hours after starting. It was cool that we had won, but as I saw the pictures of everyone else getting their skulls in the morning, I thought that it would have been cool to get them with the group.
Here are the people I want to thank:
Johnny Waite – kept us thinking….not only about the race but about life, things we hold important, and the level of control we have over our own destiny.
Mark, Anthony, Ellie – and everyone else that helped out. Given all of the weekend activity, I know it was tough to volunteer, but we appreciated it.
Every other racer out there, regardless of whether you finished or not – there was a lot of helping out there, a lot of camaraderie, and loads of laughing. It was a great group to be a part of.
Bruce Swanson – I have done adventure races with Bruce for probably 10 years, it was awesome that he could dabble in a new sport with me.
Billy Richards – signed up for this without knowing anyone in the group, the gear he would need, or what would be expected of him. Kept a really positive outlook throughout the entire event and never gave up.
Mike Shaddow – jumped on the team with two days notice, after having already crewed for me at Badwater….two huge favors in a short span of time. And this is a guy with 4 kids and a tough job….very grateful.

Comparing this to other events:
Winter Death Race 2014 – this race had more construction in it and more weight to move around…the winter race was more of a foot race.
WTM – WTM is a pure foot race, no mental work at all.
Badwater – similar pain and foot issue management, but other than that very different.
Adventure Racing – I have had more miserable moments in adventure racing (Appalachian Extreme and Florida Coast-to-Coast) but I have done more of those. I still find multi-day adventure racing more challenging for two reasons:
Navigation
More gear to manage

Race Report: The Longest Day

Cara Guilfoyle, Mikal Davis and Brice Wilson recently competed in NYARA’s The Longest Day 24 hour race. Cara chimes in this time with her thoughts on the race.

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From Cara:

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TLD was one of the most well organized races I have done. The course was challenging, lots of elevation, and very well planned. We started with a O section where we had 2 different maps with 4 checkpoints each and could divide up. Brice took the one with the more challenging appearing optional points, and Mikal and I took the 4 mandatory ones. I was pretty much doing the nav and we quickly got lost! We were convincing ourselves that we were at the right cliff and rock wall but the checkpoint just wasn’t there. We eventually went back out to the road for a point of reference and, while we were SO close to the the right trail, we took the wrong unmarked trail! once again no checkpoint, we went back one more time to the road and it started making sense. Once we were on the right trail, we quickly found the right cliff and after finding the checkpoint, found the final 3 without difficulty. We figured Brice would be waiting for us at the TA like, “what took you two so long?” But we all ended up getting there at the same time, he got turned around on the first one as well. We probably lost about 20 min.

From there we headed out to do some very nice mountain biking and eventually to the Hudson River to paddle. The paddle went well, no teams passed us. The rain started on the paddle at about 1pm and kept up till about 8pm. After the paddle we hit some serious elevation on foot (climbed 4 mountains) and were neck and neck with half way there for several checkpoints. We would pass, then they would pass then we would think we lost them, then they would pop up out of nowhere again. Eventually they passed us. We transitioned to bike at TA 4 and biked on a rocky/hilly multi use trail and roads to TA 5. We got there around 8pm to do a foot O. It was interesting because there were about 20 optional CP’s that you could get either at this time (from the north) or later in the race on the final foot section (from the south). We opted to get 5 checkpoints now and get the rest later.

When we finished, Goals and Rev 3 were the only ones out before us and they did the same thing so that was reassuring. From here we headed out onto a rather painful LONG ride (the one I was looking forward to the whole time, I should have known better) peppered with occasional checkpoints. You know its going to be bad when theres a street sign that says “steep incline ahead”. We climbed for what seemed like forever. The 30 miles took us I think 5 or 6 hours, this part is somewhat of a blur. We did hit up some drunk campers for water, they were awesome! We eventually reached the final TA to get ready for the final foot section. We switched gear around and went inside to warm up, look at the map, eat and drink.

We left there around 3:30 AM. We were all ready to get a bunch of those optional checkpoints when we found ourselves sinking (literally) in a swamp, the wrong swamp at that. I just remember Brice climbing a tree to get out of the hole he got stuck in and yelling go the other way! And Mikal’s light going up and down as he kept sinking and falling, they didn’t think it was very funny, but it was quite a scen. We then spent at least 2 hours bushwhacking through dense brush searching for a trail, ANY trail, because we had no idea where we were. We made an educated decision on which direction to head in and just went. By 6am we found a trail, and by 6:30 the sun came up and we found where we were on the trail. We were now back on track. We had 2.5 hrs to get as many of those optional CP’s as possible and get back to the finish. We ended up getting 4 more CP’s before heading in.

Overall it was a challenging race in many ways, weather, elevation, navigation. At the same time it was very satisfying in that through these adversities, we undoubtedly grew stronger as a team. I am looking forward to nationals!

A few thoughts from her teammates:

From Brice:

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Remember the last time I made a two-hour nav mistake? It was during the monster foot section of Infiterra’s 2006 Michigan Coast-to-Coast. I still remember the clue: “third depression.” Why do I remember that with such specificity? Because you don’t forget two-hour nav mistakes. At TLD this year, I made a 2hr 15min mistake that I will simply name “the confused bushwhack.” This mistake alone probably cost us 3-5 optional points. I’ll spare you the details. The main takeaway was that I had awesome teammates. Despite how disappointing this was, Mikal and Cara trusted their navigator. They knew I was trying as hard as I could to get us back on track. This ordeal was pretty unpleasant, and took place at a time of night when people are usually at their lowest… but they were always right behind me. Attitude is everything in this sport, and at times like this, it makes a real difference. Thanks guys.

Rodney and Amy, thanks so much for creating such a challenging and thoughtful event – it was awesome. Do me just one favor for next time: please cut out the 2hr 15min section where we wander aimlessly through swampy woods in the middle of the night.

From Mikal:

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The course was very well organized and the constant rain added another dimension of adventure! We started the race with some straightforward foot and bike sections, lost a little time with small nav errors, but all in all held a good pace and had fast transitions. Once on the water, we quickly found our rhythm and without any CPs to look for, lowered our heads and knocked out the rainy 12 mile upstream paddle. Cara and I both became acquainted with the art of peeing while kayaking and Brice apparently missed out. Maybe next time?

It was a great race, interesting course and very cold weather. All in all a great tune up for nationals and a good confidence builder for me personally since I didn’t bonk, held a good pace and was still feeling good enough to tow at 7 in the morning! Thanks Cara and Brice for the good times and thanks to NYARA (Rodney, Amy, Denise and all the volunteers) for a great race. Cant wait to race it again next year!

Great job Team NYARA — we are looking forward to seeing you all compete at Nationals.

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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:
 
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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:
 
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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:
 
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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:
 
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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:
 
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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:
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mikal slackline
 
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Then we rapped off the ledge to the left of Cucumber Falls:
 
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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!”