Race Report: GOALS ARA Krista Griesacker

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. 

Intro

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.

Prologue

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.  

Bike

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.

Paddle

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.  

Trek

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!

Advertisements

Team NYARA: First race of the season, Rev3 Epic

NYARA is back in the saddle again with the first big race of the season. We have some exciting things in store for this year including a new roster, more awesome races and other AR fun. We are happy to introduce a few new NYARA racers here — John and Aaron Courain and Tamela Swan who raced with fan favorite, Eric Caravella in this year’s Rev3 Epic. We will pass the reigns over to John to give us the full report. Enjoy!

REv3 startApril means the start of adventure racing season and the REV3 Epic is always first on the list here in the north east. Forty teams of racers came to Front Royal VA for a 100+ mile race through the George Washington National Forest in the Shenandoah Valley. What started off as a perfect spring weekend quickly turned into a war of attrition for a good many teams. I’ve never seen so many people lying on the ground in the middle of the woods, at night, puking. To generate this kind of misery REV3 has to be doing something right

We are a brand new squad this year. Eric is the youngest in AR years but also the toughest… or just craziest, either way no amount of misery phases him which is both awesome and mildly disconcerting. Aaron and I together have enough talent make up one complete racer. We have over 12 years combined experience which, in black lab years, is an entire life time. Our height and good looks make up for any shortfalls we have as racers. Tamela Swan has joined us this year after a 3 year hiatus and easily became the backbone of our team this weekend keeping us fed, sane, and moving forward.

NYARA startThe race started as it has before at the Down River Canoe Company in Bentonville VA. Our first leg offered up 6 checkpoints located in the tremendous single track of Shenandoah River State Park. Attacking this leg was the first strategic challenge we would see over the weekend. Only two of the points available in the park were mandatory, any two. Whatever two you chose had to be done during this initial foot section. We would be back in this park at the very end of the race and at that point we would also have our mountain bikes with us and we would be able to sweep whatever points were left from the start of the race. Clear more points by foot with fresh legs? Or, just grab the two closest points and bank some daylight for later on in the race. We decided to take a midline approach and grab 3 points. We worked our way out of the park behind a good number of teams who only picked off two points.

Starting a race by setting your team on an abnormal course does a lot for keeping you level headed throughout the race. It allows you to just race your own race and not be anxious and make mistakes when you see other teams that may or may not be in front of you. The fact is we had no idea where we actually stood in the rankings until we crossed the finish line. Is that good or bad? Well that depends. On one hand we don’t play cat and mouse all day, on the other hand we may not have a huge incentive to really race when you’re not sure if the race is on either way we moved forward confident that not too many other teams picked off a third point.

The paddle was next and its spring in the Shenandoah Valley. Spring means rain, rain means swollen rivers, and swollen rivers mean very fast splits on paddle sections. No one was walking away with the win here so we attempted to move efficiently, keep our calorie intake up, and even get a chance to enjoy the scenery. About half way through we spotted a bald eagles on its nest… ‘Merica!

We were entering the mid river ropes course as REV3 was just finishing up along with Odyssey. This gave us a confidence boost as we speedily wove our way through a lattice of chords that wound through the forest. We made our way around and over trees, through barrels, and over what I hope weren’t beds of poison ivy. We finished our maze, packed in a few calories, and got back into our canoes. Several bends in the river later we pulled ashore in historic Front Royal VA. We had to weave our way through town and hit some of the historic and professional buildings. In town was also challenge #2. We met a group of civil war period actors convinced that the south indeed will rise again. Aaron graciously offered to take one for the team and dress up like a confederate soldier. Challenge complete, and we moved on. Our first bumble of the day happened here in town. In an attempt to shave off a couple minutes of travel time I directed my team to cut across school grounds instead of following the blaringly direct path through the grounds of the Randolph-Macon Academy. What would have saved us 3 minutes needed up costing us 10 as we ran into a maze of barbwire fence and swamps that prevented us from leaving the school grounds. After hopping back and forth over a few fences and being suspiciously eyed up by a local we were back on track and quickly finished clearing the section, now onto the bikes.

The real race began here. We would be working our way by foot or by bike southeast between two parallel ridgelines. As we moved closer do the close of day we would work our way up and down these ridges over and over again until we really found ourselves in the hurt locker. The heat of the day and the effort it took to make it up and down to these high points over and over again began to take their toll on everyone. Stomachs began turning, nav decisions got harder to make, and pedaling uphill became less and less an option. Our major TA for the evening would be at Woodstock Tower. We had to push our bikes up to the Three Top Mountain ridgeline and make our way south west along the ridge for about 8 kilometers to CP 28. It was this section where we started to see the carnage ensue. We watched racers drop by the trailside one by one. We passed by Odyssey who was attempting to nurse one team member back to health, and soon after our friend from REV3 Masters had a small crash brought on from dehydration fatigue. Our own team was beginning to feel the effects as well but we pushed on toward Woodstock and finally made it to CP 28 at 11pm. The race directors wanted every team to take a selfie, so there’s this…

NAYARA selfie

We were able to make it through the ridge line push mildly unscathed save for about 5 minutes of Aaron puking. We spent some of that time hanging out with No Boundaries Media who also had a puking teammate at the selfie CP. We had been trading spots with them off and on all throughout the day. They beat us out of CP 28 by about 5 minutes but we had plenty of time to close the gap in the final section.

Races are decided at night time and this night was no exception. Our final loop put us through a valley where we would crisscross paths over and over with the teams who had not lost it all on the ridgeline a couple hours before. Most teams decided to take their bikes down through the valley, drop them, and attack the points high up on the ridges by foot one or two at a time. We scored big at the “picnic table sized rock” CP. GOALS passed us walking away from it telling us that it was a real doozy, and when we got to the attack point REV3 was on their 2nd sweep still looking. Eric did a great job picking a line off of a bend in the trail and we grabbed the point quickly moving on. We had to leave the two far out points as well as 38… and if you were at the race you would know why we skipped 38.

Our mission now was to make it back to the Down River Canoe Company and finish the course in Shenandoah River State park that we started the morning before. Not exactly a straightforward task, we had to make it past Veach Gap which climbs 1000 feet from the valley floor over Massanutten Mountain. With climbing of course comes awesome downhills and the Veach Gap Trail is no exception. We flew down the rocky trail, our brakes screaming under the strain of trying to keep us from flying off the side of the mountain. At one point we almost lost Tamela to a tumble off the side, but we made it down in one piece and crossed back into the park.

We had three points left and still had no idea where we stood. We heard at some point that Checkpoint Zero had to bow out do to sickness along with Odyssey. We were contending with REV3, GOALS, and No Boundaries Media. We had no idea where we stood so we had to treat this last part like a time trial. We hit it hard and cleared the park with some time to spare.Rev3podium

In the end we took second to REV3 who did a great job in this early season race. No Boundaries Media ended up with the same score as us but we beat them on time so they ended up third. NYARA is shaping up to be a tremendous squad this year. Next stop; Ohiopyle for the Equinox Traverse.