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!

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Race Report: Krista Griesacker

Team NYARA is proud of Eric and Ann Marie for a super strong performance at this year’s Krista Griesacker race. The race is put on by GOALS ARA and is typically a 12 hour Race. This year Team NYARA raced in the two person co-ed category and won it! Ann Marie gave us the following report. Enjoy!

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Strategy and speed, or some combination of the two, is what will help your team win. It was an honor to race the GOALS Krista 12 hour race with Eric Caravella as Team NYARA this past Saturday. Although I had always been the navigator for my team for my past 10 years of racing, I was more than happy that Eric would be the navigator for this race so I could focus on trying to keep up with him – this was the dynamic that would work well for our team.

Monsoon rains came down just before the pre-race check-in on Friday night, setting up tents and getting gear ready was a soggy affair with the constant dripping of water through the trees, and the forecast was for scattered storms on race day, too. Of course we all know the race will go on regardless. The usual Hawk Mountain Civil Air Patrol base camp facilities were wonderful, and comfortably familiar. At check-in we get the map and start marking points, copying down from the maps hung on the walls. Eric immediately was focused and very detailed, really paying attention to the elevation of the points, putting together a list of question for the Race Directors to fine tune our race.

At the race meeting, Race Directors Brian Reiss and Derek Lawrence were clearly thrilled with the racecourse they had planned, and they set a fun and upbeat mood for the next day. Morning arrives, and Team NYARA totally missed the 6 am meeting, clueless, never heard the loudspeakers calling for us – fortunately we didn’t miss anything other than taking attendance. Then we hopped on the buses for an hour ride to the town of Tamaqua for the race start.

After a short prologue to spread out the teams, the race starts on bike, in a hidden gem of technical singletrack park that hosts some local Mt Bike races. There are no checkpoints in here, instead the course is marked with blue arrows and flagging, sending us up down and all around, full of alley-oops, and up and overs, some a little too dicey with wet roots and drops. Altogether very fun if you like Mt biking. Ultimately, the only checkpoint we were going for was M1 sitting atop the ridge. Once on the ridge, it looks like a 6k double track to the west, plus a road ride with serious elevation. Or, as we checked out when studying the map on Friday night, the other option was instead to bomb down to town and take the level road across the valley to TA1. The problem was that after following the marked course on the way up, I was turned around and unsure of the descent. Eric had a good feeling for it, and when Team REV3 went blowing by us on the downhill with the same plan, that locked in our decision to head back to town.

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After cruising through the valley, we were the second team to arrive at TA1. TA1 sat in a saddle between 2 highpoints to the east and west. The next part of the race consisted of 2 optional foot sections, ‘A’ and ‘B’, each with 7 checkpoints, set up on those highpoints. When studying the map, Eric decided to start with ‘B’ as the terrain was more obvious. Eric takes off like the wind, I did my best in here, but my legs were burning on the endless uphill. Picture a mountain goat teamed with an old Galapagos tortoise. Once we reached the plateau, the navigation needs to kick in – we are looking for a minor saddle 1k west, and the saddle is so minor, and the ridge so broad, we were afraid of missing it. Fortunately, Eric nailed it right on, and we kept going. Eric’s pace counting was fabulous through the course of the race, of the 3 long stretches that he counted, the most he was off was by 5 steps. Yeah, just 5.

We collected 6 of the 7 CP’s in section B before we heard voices in the woods behind us, we tried to scurry up the next hill to stay hidden, but tortoises don’t scurry, and soon after we were caught by 3 teams, including GOALS. For the first time in my life, my hamstrings cramped and that pain just stopped me in my tracks. (My thanks to Val who shared some electrolyte tabs so I could keep moving). I was discouraged at this point because I knew Eric could be flying out ahead, but he was a fabulous teammate, he never gave up on me, and he picked some decent lines that I could follow. We grabbed the last CP and started the descent back down to the TA. We had to strategize here – do we try for anything on the ‘A’ side? Most other top teams were going for all or part of the ‘A’ loop, the phrase “staying competitive” was tossed around quite a bit. But it was a major hill climb to get up there, and my legs were already tired. And we were only halfway through the race – we still had the paddle on the river (if it had any water this year was still unknown), and a very long one direction trek to get back to the finish. We decided to skip ‘A’, go directly to the paddle, and concentrate on the Optional points on the long trek back, hoping that the clock would work against any team who took too long up there on loop ‘A’. Foreshadowing of things to come…

We arrived first at the paddle and were pleased to find enough water to float our boat, so off we went. With only 2 bodies in the boat, we did make it over most shallow spots, and finished the paddle in about 1 hour, way ahead of the 2 hours we planned for. Now I’m feeling guilty that perhaps I should have pushed the hill for the ‘A’ loop, but it’s too late now. Eric reset his altimeter, and we headed off for 3k on the road, then back into the woods we go. The 3 optional points in this section were tricky, set on vague state gameland boundaries and vegetation boundaries. F3 was set at post 20 on the vegetation boundary, and the elevation just wasn’t working. After looking around for a bit, we decided to skip it, go get F1, then come back at F3 from another angle. F1 was no picnic either, and as a navigator I would have walked away from this one, but Eric was determined and cool, and did I mention determined? And sure enough, battling though endless rhodo bushes, there it was.

We set out again for F3, and came back to the exact same spot we were before. Now we need to start widening our circle, something isn’t making sense. Ultimately we find the CP 65 feet higher than expected which causes Eric to question the elevation, the altimeter, and the map. But the good side of all the wandering around was we knew that the dotted line on the map indicating a trail was a lie, and on the trip to F1 and back we had also already found the re-entrant up to M8, so Eric was confident as we started the last hill climb. M9 was a beautiful vista off the AT, one of those uber awesome spots where you can see for miles and makes the race pause for a moment. Well, I paused and enjoyed the moment, Eric was checking the map and planning our descent. Off we went, scrambling down an endless major boulder field, Eric estimated 800 meters angling off southwest to hit the trail (it was actually 803 meters to step onto the trail, awesome!). We scrambled down this trail – more like a stream runoff – and popped out by the soybean field just short of home base. When we checked in at M11 around 5:30, they told us we were the first team out of the woods, which was another indication that for some teams that went for the ‘A’ loop, time was not going to be kind. When the Race Director seems relieved to finally see a team emerge from the woods, you know the cutoff time will become a determining factor in the results.

For Team NYARA to finish, we had one last bushwhack up and over. What we didn’t know was REV3 was right behind us, and instead of the bushwhack they decided to run the flat road around. As Eric and I skirted the active shooting range, heading downhill for the finish, we heard cheering up ahead as REV3 arrived first overall, AND clearing the course. Team NYARA came across the line as the 2nd team to finish, but short of points from the ‘A’ loop. Now it was wait and see who else could get in before the cutoff, and how many points they would carry.

Outside of the race clock, the Obstacle course was open for 1 additional bonus point, and it is just too much fun to miss! My teammate really stepped in to help get my sorry exhausted depleted body up the rope climb, and over the 6 foot wall, I had every good intention but I was so maxxed out I fell off the rope swing into the mud puddle, and I didn’t care one bit!

We found some food and chilled out, and waited. And waited. The clock ticked on. Where is everyone? In the end, only 10 teams that started the race made it in by cutoff. Our closest competition in C2 came in with 1 extra point, but too late, so they lost the point and tied our number. Team NYARA won with a faster time, 1st place in Co-ed 2 division, and 4th overall. Other teams missed points and/or the race cut-off because of the length and toughness of that last trek section, and spending too much time on the ‘A’ and ‘B’ loops early in the day. Strategically, we balanced out what my legs could handle with Eric’s sharp navigating, and it ended up to be a really good call. It was an honor to race with him, just to watch a good navigator navigate was cool, and he knew I was doing my best to keep up, and that I was determined to keep moving. And another of my favorite things is the time spent after the race reviewing the course with other teams, swapping stories and laughing. We agreed up front to have fun with the race, and we certainly did!

High fives to Aaron Courain and John Courain for taking 1st overall with an awesome showing, and to GOALS for winning the 3 person supreme divine category also clearing the course.

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