Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc - Race Report

The really short version: finished in 41 hours 31 minutes, 168.7 kilometres with 9,796 metres of ascending and 9,796 metres of descending.  823rd out of 2,445 racers.  On the second night, I tried three separate times to sleep for about 20 minutes, but started running again when I wasn't falling asleep after five minutes of trying.

The slightly longer version: went out way too fast because I was nervous about a time cut-off early in the race, tired myself out much too early, then battled to hang on for about 140 remaining kilometres. My leg pain that had me on crutches and halted my running a couple of months ago came back only 15 km into the race (but in the other leg!?). My stomach started to go on me a couple of times around 30 km but it wasn't too bad and I was able to bring it back a couple of times by easing the intensity a little. The bigger issue is that I sprained my ankle badly at 45 km on a downhill during the night. I got back up and tried to run on it but it would just roll again. I really didn't want to quit after everything I'd gone through this summer with working through the injury, and travelling all the way to Europe (and I really, REALLY hate quitting). I taped it up and tried again, and seemed to be able to run on it (nervously, especially on these steep downhills and at night) so I continued. I was in and out of the aid stations very quickly and ended up amongst some faster racers than myself but was determined to make it work as payback for my earlier pacing mistake. As a result, I was working at an intensity that is too high for a race this long and higher than I've gone in any of my racing before, but I was having fun with it. It was a complete mouth-breather drool-fest, burying myself but hoping that I still had an endurance base from before my running training got shut down.  I kept increasing my time margin from the published cut-off times, suggesting that I would finish in under 39 hours. In the end, I decided that I wasn't absolutely concerned with my race time and position as long as I would finish well before the final cut-off, so I opted to walk down the final 8 km downhill in order to not abuse the ankle further. I ran the last stretch through town to the finish because no wants to watch someone slowly walk across the finish line. The crowd at the finish, the start, and various points along the race course throughout the day and night was crazy - the trail running equivalent of the Tour de France! 2,445 racers! No wonder they call UTMB "The summit of trail running".

The really, really long version. You've been warned... : I started ramping up my training in February with the goal of being ready with two months to spare, plus a 3-week taper before the race. The two months would allow for any training injuries or a sprained ankle, and would allow me time to recover and still do my race. I really didn’t want anything to prevent me from completing this race. Between gathering qualifying points at races in 2012, and going through lottery draws in 2012 and 2013, it is a long process to get into this race. If I was ready with two months to spare and was healthy, I would simply use those two months to keep training, really solidify the gains, and work on additional speed and strength. By late May I was approaching my maximum training volume (6-hour runs on Saturdays, followed by 4-hour runs on Sundays). VJ and I went down to San Francisco for a great weekend of play with our friends Ryan and Jen who live there, and got the chance to run and mountain bike on trails that weren’t buried under endless winter. I joined Ryan for a 50 km trail race that fit perfectly into my training schedule.

Chilling out after a trail run near San Fran

When we returned to Calgary, my first run after the race brought some pain in the upper right thigh that felt like a pulled muscle. This pain got worse over the next few weeks while I went to physiotherapy to understand what was going on. I continued with my training, especially when we ruled out a pulled muscle and thought it might be nerves from angry discs in the lower back. I carried on with my big training days, not wanting to let up on the training volume, pushing through the pain and telling myself “if it’s nerves, then it just feels like pain”. Big training continued, including big outings like the Canmore Triple Crown (up and down three mountains in a day).

When the leg wasn’t responding to treatment the way it should, I was sent for a bone scan, just to rule out the possibility of something big like a stress fracture of the femur. It’s rare to crack your femur from just running, but with the amounts of running I had been doing, I might be in that small statistic. I stopped any running and waited for the scan. That weekend, I went mountain biking instead, and had some pain that went up into the hip. This got worse to the point where I was having pain at rest and aches at night. I skipped the last ride with our group that weekend, and was pretty sure the bone scan would bring some bad news.

The bone scan showed something that had the possibility of being a stress fracture and it was recommended that I follow up with an MRI. In the meantime, I was put on crutches just in case. On the Canada Day long weekend, our friends Barb and Richard (both also training for UTMB) joined us at a condo in Canmore for 4 days of training in the mountains. I had grand plans of showing them the best trail running that Canmore and Banff have to offer with loads of ascending and descending to give their legs lots of what they couldn’t easily find in Ontario. Instead, I was on crutches when I greeted them, and Barb almost cried at the sight of it.

My physiotherapist outlined a 6-week return-to-walking-crutch-free schedule if it was a fracture. After 4 weeks, I would be allowed to try some light biking. This looked like it would also rule out being able to go on the 7-day Durango-to-Moab mountain bike trip we had booked via the San Juan huts system (about 4 weeks away and not “light biking”). I think I may have been more upset about this than missing UTMB – the bike trip sounded so cool. I continued to help arrange the logistics of the bike trip, insisting that VJ and our friend Becca still go ahead with it. Meanwhile, while Barb and Richard were visiting in Canmore and I spent the days hanging out in the condo, I refused to let anyone post any photos or comments about me being on crutches. Yes, clearly in denial, and not ready to give up hope until we were 100% certain (although it was feeling 90% certain that my bike trip and my race would both be cancelled. I expected to recover enough to at least be able to enjoy a touristy vacation in France in 7 weeks, and maybe be able to ride a road bike while I was there).

The next week I had my MRI (very grateful for the private MRI option in Alberta,…. about $1000 and a 1- or 2-day wait). I expected the MRI would clarify whether this was a crack in the bone, an avulsion, or a torn muscle, and we would then know how to proceed with treating it. After looking at both my left and right thighs and hips, the MRI report stated: “upper right thigh normal”. Absolutely nothing wrong with my leg, hip or groin, yet the pain was strong enough that it would be easy to convince me that the bone was cracked. My physiotherapist then diagnosed it as periostitis, like shin splints of the thigh. He let me come off the crutches, but I was told not to run. I was gradually able to reintroduce activities that were non-impact and wouldn't aggravate the periostitis, as we were trying to get this inflammation to calm down. I was allowed to try some very light road biking, and was able to use the stairmill at my gym because it didn’t bring pain. Workouts had to be kept short, definitely not the volume I was training at previously. After working my way through short road rides and stairmill workouts (started at 45 minutes which seemed insignificant compared with the 6-hour runs; I could feel that they weren't enough to maintain my fitness) I was given the okay to try mountain biking. In each case, my workouts would bring just a little discomfort but nothing too bad.

At what felt like the last minute, I was given the green light to try the mountain bike trip! My physiotherapist also said that if my leg did fine with the biking, he would let me try running when I returned. Yes, the door was cracked open for the possibility of starting UTMB! Don’t burn that ticket yet! But oh boy… that meant that three weeks before the race, at the time when I was planning to taper down from my large running volume, I would be starting to run again after more than 2 months off.

En route to Moab, we stopped in a grocery store. After checking out, I went back for something else in a rush. I softly jogged to the rear of the store, and back to the front. As I passed Becca (who also goes to the same physiotherapist), I looked at her and said “Don’t tell Dave” with a laugh, referring to my forbidden running. As soon as I stopped, the leg pain showed up again. Damn! Not good.

The week of mountain biking from Durango, Colorado to Moab, Utah was incredible. I highly recommend it. I had a little bit of discomfort in the leg for the first couple of days but the pain went away, as I diligently performed my physio exercises everyday. The trip was also incredibly therapeutic for my mind and soul, after all of the anxiety about my leg. At least I got to do something, I still got to enjoy this great trip, and being able to workout for hours each day is something my body had missed.

Feeling alive again in Moab, Utah
Back in Calgary, with about three weeks to go until UTMB, I got permission to try an easy 30-minute run on the treadmill. No significant pain, but it was obvious that I had lost a lot of running fitness. This slow run should not have been as much of a workout as it was. Still, you've never seen someone enjoy a treadmill so much - no one should get this much pleasure from a treadmill. I wasn't allowed to run two days in a row, so the next run would have to wait. As the runs progressed, I was allowed to increase my duration by 10 to 25 percent per week. Hmmmm.... How do I get back up to my 6-hour level in three weeks and still include a decent taper? Impossible. Oh well, with a two and a half month interruption in my running schedule, the perfect lead up to the race wasn't going to happen. I needed to simply prioritize being healthy for the race. I would have to accept the lost fitness and just suffer more on race day. The goal now was simply to get to the race, and hope that the leg would last through the distance and elevation to let me finish. I still wasn't allowed to try any downhill running, which we figure is what caused the injury.

Before heading to Chamonix, France for the race, we spent a week in the beautiful nearby town of Annecy with our relocated Canadian adventure racing friends Pete and Leanne and their three and a half year old daughter Mari, along with fellow UTMB racers Barb and Richard (the ones who joined us in Canmore previously). Days were filled with short trail runs, trips to mountain tops, watching the dozens of paragliders, and eating too much good cheese and yogurt. Annecy is also a great starting point for several excellent Tour de France rides, so my "taper" included a nice climb partway up the category 1 climb of Le Semnoz - I couldn't resist. It was so fun to ride a great climb like this, complete with the professional racer names painted on the road from when the Tour came through.

Climbing, and representing
Top that off with staying up until 1 am swapping adventure racing tales with Pete and Leanne, and I was clearly writing the book on how not to prepare for a big race. I knew it and decided that I wasn't concerned. I wasn't going to sacrifice all of this fun for a race preparation that was already so mixed up. I decided that despite how physically demanding this race course was, the challenge of finishing would be more of a mental battle, and I was feeling like I was in a really good place mentally thanks to the great Moab trip and the great time in Annecy.

The train ride into Chamonix is stunning. The cars are intentionally equipped with ceiling windows for taking in the scenery. Despite my patriotism and love of the Rockies at home, these mountains are noticeably more impressive.

Some of the scenery in Chamonix.  This view from our apartment shows only part of the Mont Blanc mountain range.  I would be running around the whole thing, going up and over 10 mountain passes along the way.
Arriving in Chamonix, I went to the hotel to check in while VJ rushed to see if she could get up the Aiguille du Midi gondola on this clear and sunny day. I went to the race check-in where I had to show my mandatory gear. The full-time gear list for this race is substantial, including two headlamps and spare batteries for each, warm pants or tights, rain pants, warm and waterproof gloves, rain jacket, long-sleeved shirt, warm hat, water, food, cup, cell phone, passport (for crossing into Italy, Switzerland and back into France during the race), and more. In total, my race pack weighed about 10 lbs (and that's with lightweight high-tech gear). Check in went smoothly and the organizers were excited and welcoming toward someone who had travelled so far. I received my race number bib which also sports my name (so that people can cheer you on by name, which they did) and my country's flag. The large majority of runners were from France, so the Canadian flag was quite unique and drew some attention (less than 20 Canadians out of 2,445 UTMB racers). I was feeling like a big shot international racer at UTMB, until VJ arrived and informed me that she rode the gondola with Kilan Jornet.... (For those who don't know, Kilian has essentially won every big race there is in the world, usually crushing the course record and has effectively retired from racing at the age of 25 because he doesn't have much interest in simply winning all of the races over and over again. Instead, he is now setting speed records climbing all of the biggest mountains in the world).

The start of the UTMB is huge. More than 2,400 racers, all in one mass start, through the streets of Chamonix which are lined with spectators about five rows deep. I went to the start about 40 minutes before, and couldn't get close enough to even see the start line. I had no idea how far back I was and how many racers were ahead of me.

Going for a little trail run with 2400 friends... (this picture doesn't capture all of us.  I'm to the left of the building on the left)
Is this the start? (the start line was ahead and to the left, after this side street merged in with the main stream from the right)
When the gun went off, we walked for two to three minutes before we passed under the start line arch. We continued to walk for a total of 10 minutes before the race pack opened up enough to run. As much as this was a little frustrating, and I was nervous about one of the time cut-offs early in the race, I reminded myself to relax and enjoy this incredible experience - thousands of people cheering on the street and from the balconies, reaching out for high-fives, TV cameras, at least one helicopter, and so many huge Swiss cow bells!

The rain didn't keep the crowds away
This video gives an idea of what the race course and the start are like:

The rain started about half an hour before the race start. Although it was forecasted to last for maybe an hour, it rained for six hours that night, sometimes quite hard.

I figured the rain would just play to my advantage, given my adventure racing background, so I wasn't too upset by it
When we left the road and started to ascend a ski hill, the huge crowd of racers was more than I was used to. I felt an urge to find my own space, and started picking my way through the crowd as if some open space awaited ahead.

Traffic!  Who wouldn't want to get ahead of this?
All of this was made a little more difficult by the soupy trail conditions - just add water and churn 2,445 times! This, combined with my nervousness about the time cut-off at kilometer 31, resulted in me pushing too hard and feeling tired by kilometer 20, and bagged by kilometer 30. Absolutely the wrong way to start an ultramarathon. I passed the time cut-off at 4 hours and 46 minutes, unnecessarily faster than the 6-hour criterion that I was so worried about. I was frustrated at this mistake but only had myself to blame, so I was determined to still "make it work". I put my head down and continued at this intensity for much of the rest of the race. What followed were many, many hours of mouth-breathing drool-fest. It would have been a respectable display of effort if it weren't for the fact that this intensity level is all wrong for a race this long, especially this early into the race. I spent most of the next day feeling like my head was in a suffer-bubble.  This, plus the fact that most racers spend two nights and one day on the race course due to the 5:30 PM start, meant that I didn't notice much of the incredible scenery around me.

This is NOT how you should be feeling this early in an ultramarathon.  Scenery?  What scenery? 
Okay I admit it - there was scenery and it was incredible

Not to sound like an exaggeration, but I don't think I've pushed this hard in any of my previous racing. Even though it was completely the wrong pace for this race, I was having fun with it - it felt good to dig deep like this. I was soon running in a group where I didn't belong. I was content to let them go ahead, but I made a point of being very fast through the aid stations and this would leap-frog me ahead as I would pass dozens of people while they stood around and refueled (I would simply refill my hydration bladder, load more food in my pockets to eat on the trail, and go).

Aid stations in Europe: sausage, cheese, bread
This approach brought me up as high as 564th position (quite good for me), with much of my race spent in the 600s. This was all better than I had expected, and this was despite my bad luck early in the race. At only kilometer 15, shortly into the first downhill, the leg pain that had put me on crutches a couple of months ago came back. I expected it would come back gradually through the race, but it came back fully and instantly. Now here's the weird part: it came back in the other leg. Fortunately it eased up somewhat, but it came and went for the rest of the race. Then around kilometer 30, my stomach went on me, a couple of times. Fortunately it wasn't too bad, I was able to bring it back by easing up the intensity briefly. The really bad news came at kilometer 45. As I was running down one of the many long steep downhills in the dark, I sprained my ankle, badly! I fell down and knew it was a bad one based on the pops and tearing I felt and heard. I got up and tried to run again, but my ankle was now floppy and just went right over again. Back to the ground I returned. This might be enough to end my race....

I really didn't want to stop. After all the training, long days running in the snow, the whole saga I went through this summer with the leg injury, I didn't want it to end this way. And most of all, I hate quitting. I mean really, REALLY hate quitting. A DNF ("Did Not Finish") will hang on me for a long time and feels absolutely awful. As much as the race feels awful at the time, I know that a DNF hurts me more. Like Lance Armstrong's quote (think what you will of him, but this quote rings true for me): pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever. There's only one way to fix it: don't stop. I pulled out some strapping tape and taped up my ankle. I gave it a cautious test and was able to run on it. I continued like this for the next 123 kilometers.

I can see the swelling in my ankle through my sock, and the race isn't over yet...
The long, steep uphills reduce everyone to a hike. The downhills were often too steep to be runnable by all but the top pros. Even then, I think the pros must descend some of these sections in a heel-striking braking fashion; many of these slopes were just too steep to stride down. Fortunately my taping job provided enough proprioception to my ankle that I was able to survive these downhills but I was always nervous, wishing for a brighter headlamp, and always focusing on finding the best footing for my right foot. I kept dreading the mis-step that would cause the ankle to go over again, maybe making it impossible to continue. It made for an extra-long race. From about kilometer 90 onward, I longed to be finished. It would have felt good to stop, but I didn't want all of the effort thus far to go unrewarded. Just keep it up for.... less than 70 kilometres to go...

By kilometer 139, I had built a 6 hour and 45 minute margin on the time cut-offs, on pace for a finishing time of around 39 hours or better. I decided that I didn't need to continue burying myself like this and could ease up a bit in order to take more of it in and enjoy it more. For the final 8-kilometer downhill to the finish, I decided that I owed it to my ankle to not run this final descent (I'd spent the last 115 kilometres worrying about what three off-road marathons might do to a sprained ankle). I walked the last downhill (frustratingly, much of this was quite runnable) while about 150 racers passed me. I kept telling myself that my time or position didn't matter, my goal had simply been to start and to finish, but it was a little tough to take.

A few kilometers from town, I heard a familiar voice cheering. VJ had hiked up the trail to meet me. Soon, we were joined by Pete and his daughter Mari. We walked into town where Leanne was waiting to shoot some video and I was joined by Richard who gave me a Canada flag to carry to the finish line. It soon became obvious that watching a runner walk to the finish line is pretty anti-climactic for the crowd, so I started running and sprinted for the finish. As I did this, Mari (who had been jogging alongside me) picked up the pace and was ready to outgun me for the line. Pete jumped in and scooped her up, probably kicking and screaming as she declared "I was going to win this race!". I'm indebted to Pete - I do believe Mari would have defeated me. Barb was waiting at the finish and snapped shots of me while it seemed to take me 10 minutes to think of what I was going to do next.

Now that UTMB is complete, I still don't know what I'm going to do next... :)

Mari throws down the challenge
The final stretch to the finish line

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

AR World Championships 2011 - VJ's Take

Adventure Racing World Championships 2011, Tasmania, Australia

In almost every race there are moments where I swear never to race again. The 2011 Adventure Racing World Championships in Tasmania, Australia would be no exception!


Mike and I arrived in Launceston, Tasmania, 5 days prior to the start of the event to allow ourselves to recover from the trip and to have some more relaxed time preparing race food and race gear. We picked up some bike boxes from the airline that met the requirements of the race and spent a good part of a day waterproofing them. We squeezed a few workouts in and we got all our food purchased and sorted out. Food is always a challenge in a different country. Thankfully we found all kinds of goodies in the Tasmanian grocery stores. My favorites were Tim-Tams, rice pudding, Lamingtons, mini muffins and the self-heated camping meals that we had pre-ordered.

On Saturday October 29, shuttle buses drove us from Launceston airport to the race host city of Burnie in the North West. The sight at Launceston airport was amazing! Adventure racers, their bike boxes and gear were seen all over the airport. In fact, I felt a bit sorry for anyone arriving who was not part of the race as there was very little space left over. There were lots of familiar faces and many new ones. We had a few minutes to catch up with other Canadian and American racers that we know from our local races. Bike boxes were loaded on trucks and racers and duffle bags on the buses. Other than a few media people interviewing teams on the bus, the trip was uneventful. As we drove into Burnie however, the weather changed from partly cloudy to gray, then dark and finally to pouring rain. This was the weather we were expecting to race in for a week.

Mike and I checked into our hotel and relaxed while waiting for the other half of team Wild Rose to arrive on the later shuttle bus, Bart and Sean. Sean McCovey was recruited to the team when our regular James Heilman was unable to attend. Sean comes from a background of triathlon (Ironman) and big mountaineering (7 summits) but had never competed in an adventure race. The ARWC would be his first adventure race experience. The boys arrived in the evening, but unfortunately their bikes had been stuck somewhere in transit and were not expected for another day or two.

Sunday October 30 was spent packing up our bikes and getting the bike boxes nicely decorated with our Wild Rose logo. The bike box worked out better than I thought. All that had to be removed from the bike were one pedal, the wheels and seat post. The derailleur and the handlebar could stay on. I also packed a nice sleeping pad and sleeping bag in the bike box just in case we would choose to sleep in a bike transition area at some point. Bart and Sean received their bikes from the airline in the evening which was a relief.

On Monday October 31 we went through registration, team photo session, mandatory gear check and a race briefing. We received our 5 gear bins that we would use during the race and we had a chance to take a look at the two types of kayaks we would be using in the race. One was a 17 foot inflatable kayak and the other a much shorter sit-on-top hard plastic kayak. We had brought foam pads that would make the seats more comfortable as well as raise us up a little higher in the boats for more leverage. We are not the strongest paddling team so how to pair us up was a bit of a question. In the end we decided on myself and Sean in the hard plastic boat and Mike and Bart in the inflatable. In the evening we were treated to a carbo load dinner where the town mayor declared how excited the city of Burnie was to host this large event. Most teams seemed pretty focused on the upcoming event and there was very little mingling prior to everyone retreating to get some sleep.


November 1 started with a meeting to present the course. The course would be a loop of about 735km, starting and finishing in Burnie. The first few sections would be relatively short and just before and after mid-point we would see some very long sections. A few sections had people gasping for air, such as a swim across 2 pools of 10C water on a river in the middle of nowhere, and an abseil down a waterfall.  We received our 37 maps, course booklet with instructions for the race and there was an optional briefing on what to do in case of a snake bite. All three Tasmanian snakes are poisonous.

The afternoon was spent reviewing the course and trying to figure out what we needed to pack in each of the five gear bins. We would see certain bins at certain points of the course so it was very important to pack the correct gear and right amount of food in each one. The bins were small, only 90 liters each, and we were restricted to only packing 25kg in each bin, which made it a real challenge to pack enough food. Some luxury items had to stay behind in favour of food and even then we found ourselves having to leave food behind as well. This packing procedure took almost all day and was at least to me a bit stressful and frustrating. On top of that we had to figure out how to get the five bins to headquarters before 5pm. We ended up using a taxi for this but the taxi driver was not happy at all to be driving our bins around. He was so angry that I made Mike go with him to HQ while I walked over. HQ was also bit of a mess at this time. All bins and all bike boxes had to be weighed before being accepted onto the trucks. This was a very frustrating process where everyone was lining up all over the place and people shoving their way through pretty aggressively. We took about 2 hrs to get through with our bike boxes alone and I was starving. Quite a disorganized process. But with the exception of this and the lack in help to transport team gear to and from head quarters, the race organization was outstanding, I would say the most well organized expedition race that I have attended.

Once back at the hotel I stuffed myself with a noodle stir fry while Bart was finishing the route plotting of the maps. The maps had all checkpoints and transition areas already marked, so working out the route was the main job. Sean was waterproofing the maps once Bart had finished his plotting. By 9pm I was in bed, but I'm pretty sure Bart stayed up studying the course until quite late.

The Race

November 2 and race start finally came around and all the teams gathered on the beach in Burnie for a short 17km kayak section. It was a warm morning with wind coming in from the north. In the past few days the wind had been coming from the west which would have been a bit better as we would have had a tail wind, but it didn't seem too bad looking out on the water. It was very cool to be lining up for the race with some very big teams. Team Seagate, SILVA, Thule Sweden, Blackheart, and our own Wilderness Traverse were amongst a few of them. The front of the pack would surely set a furious pace right off the start.

The race organizer, Craig Bycroft had a few final words for the racers and while he was speaking and nearing the start of the countdown, Bart realized that the mandatory throw bags were not in his backpack as he first thought but on one of the closed up trucks with our paddling bag. This was not good as missing mandatory gear gave severe penalties in this race. I dashed off to the trucks but couldn't find anyone there. I ran back and found a guy who could help me get into the trucks. I started digging through the mountain of bags trying to find ours and I didn't hit jackpot until half the way through the second truck. As I was opening the bag I could hear the count down from 10 to start. I scrambled and at last found the two throw ropes. I sprinted down the beach where I could see all boats in the water but ours. We got into the boats and started our race amongst the last of the pack. A disappointing way to start the race to say the least. These boats are slow to paddle and it took a long time to start catching teams. Bart and Mike were having issues keeping their inflatable boat straight and the plastic boat kept nose diving in the water, urgh! A great white shark had been spotted in this area the previous day and we could hear people nervously chatting about it. The waters around Tasmania are apparently known for the large size of great white sharks which I was happy to hear for the first time after the race was done. There was one CP on a shore in this section. Bart ran up to get it while the rest of us remained in the kayaks. Team Spirit and Milton Basements were at the CP around the same time as us, which meant we had moved up a little since the start, but I still had a sense that we could have done so much better if we had had a good start. We took out of the water in 48th place.

After a quick transition, we ran up to the first CP of the trek which was also a shooting event where one team member had to hit at least one out of 5 flying clay targets. If you didn't shoot at least one, you had to serve a 10 minute penalty.  Sean was nominated to shoot from our team and managed to get two targets right away. We continued our run into the forest on some nice trails. I was glad to notice that my calf muscles that had been painful out of the boat seemed fully recovered and running felt good. The next CP came up quickly but as we were a few minutes past it, Bart realized that he forgot to stamp one of the cards. Every team member had a bracelet to stamp but Bart also had a card to stamp on top of that. We returned for the stamp and continued. Throughout this trek we saw some familiar teams, such as Spirit, Milton Basements and a couple of Australian teams. Sean wasn't feeling very well in this section. It was hot, we had been running and his pack was really heavy, plus I think his food wasn't sitting well.  Bart and I split up the content of Sean's bag to let Sean recover without weight for a while. We had a long race ahead of us and we could not afford to let ourselves burn out early. I remember feeling a bit sore in this trek too. A few aches and pains from Raid the North Extreme popped up, but more as a distant reminder of the summer rather than full blown issues and I didn't feel held back by it. The final distance into the TA was on road where we ran the flats and the downs but walked the up hills. The day had been much hotter than I had expected. Clear blue skies and a baking sun. I really enjoyed it as I expected the whole week to be rainy.

We put our bikes together and refilled our water and food supply and set off on the next section which was a 50km mountain bike section. The first section was on paved roads and took us deep down into a valley with some ripping downhills. Half the way down we started meeting the lead pack who were coming back up, a Swedish team and then Wilderness Traverse. I didn't know prior to this that this section of the ride was an in-and-out and all of a sudden the ripping downhills didn't seem all that enjoyable anymore. I was worried that the climbing would burn Sean out more. 
Our plan was to make it to the TA at the end of the ride and let Sean sleep, but seeing these hills made me wonder if we would last until the TA. We pressed on down the valley and hit our target of a caving system that all teams had to navigate through. There were a number of check points inside the cave and we would have an hour to spend in this section. If you were done earlier in the cave you would have to wait out your time as all teams had to stay the full hour. We found most checkpoints easily, but one of them took us a bit of circling to find. We ran into Amy, one of the race organizers, in the cave. She was there to ensure we all behaved and took the correct route through the cave. A couple of tight squeezes and some wet feet and we popped out earlier than our 60 minutes and had an opportunity to rest a few minutes. Other teams that were arriving at the caves saw our wet feet and pants and were trying to decide whether to go in with our without shoes.

The remaining bike ride had us riding back up the valley and onto a gravel road system that turned into a smaller gravel road system as we went on. I felt really good on the bike. We saw a lot of possums running across the road in front of us. Some of them seemed to appear out of nowhere and as warned by the organizers, we were to keep an eye on these creatures as there are a lot of road accidents involving possums.  I was super glad that we had such awesome lights. The Lupine Betty's pretty much give you daylight vision even at a lower setting. The max setting of 1850 lumen is almost scary. We didn't see many teams on this ride until the end where we passed a few before getting into the TA. We refueled on our self heated meals, rice pudding and other goodies and then went down for our first sleep to allow Sean to get better. Mike helped the team a lot in this TA by getting the food ready and getting our water refilled. In fact, Mike was our TA man in this race and often did our meals and got us through quicker. I was often too focused on my own stuff that I dropped the ball on helping the rest of the team with TA tasks.  I didn't sleep at all during this nap (I never seem to sleep the first night) but it was a very good stop as Sean seemed fully recovered when he woke up.  It took quite a few yells to wake him up. He was in a pretty deep sleep. The upcoming section would be one of the longer treks, around 60 or 65km so I was glad to see that he had managed to sleep and also seemed fairly recovered.

We started out on a few kilometers of road (not my favorite terrain) and had a CP to grab in a small cave just off the road before we could hit a trail system that would bring us up to Black Bluff. A short run down from the road, a crawl in mud to the CP and then right back to the road. Not much point in that one. If a checkpoint isn't part of the route or for the point of navigation, they feel contrived and like they don't add value to the course (obviously just my own opinion as some people in the race seemed to like these CPs).  We climbed up the trail to Black Bluff in the dark. We passed a bunch of teams and I kept catching a team ahead of us and the guy in the back of their team kept pointing out that I was dropping my team. I wasn't really as they were right behind me, but I think the guy was a bit out of it and was sleep walking as he would slow down, then speed up just to slow down again. As we neared the top the wind picked up and we started seeing first light. It was really pretty up there in sunrise, even though it was cold. Before we crested the pass, we put our Westcomb jackets on for the first time. Only a few minutes of wearing it, this became my favorite piece of gear for this race. Even though I had another jacket, I wore this for all the remaining sections. It is super light, very waterproof and even after dunking in the river (later in the race) it dried up very quickly and remained waterproof.  Pools of water were frozen and the wind was biting. The shell pants and dish gloves came out as well. Nice views all around us. 

We traversed over the highlands for some time before descending down into a valley bottom to start another shorter climb up on the other side. The day was getting warm again and we were hiking in direct sunlight. 

After another CP and spotting a cute echidna in a boggy area we hit a long section of road again. Every time we hit longer road sections I felt like it was tough going mentally. Nothing to focus on but one foot in front of another and it often seems like our team slows down when on road. This might just be in my head though as I dislike the road so much.

The road took us down onto a highway and then back into a gravel road system that we were on for some time. I think it rained on and off here. I remember stopping to put a layer on and then having to work hard to catch up again. I decided not to stop like that again for the rest of the race as it took too much of an effort to catch back up. In this race I was racing with my 31L Osprey pack rather than my 22L which I used at RTNX. Other than the size difference, I really noticed how much more time consuming it is to get in and out of the 31L pack. Two initial buckles, then another one followed by a drawstring. I very much prefer to have just one zipper and wish that they made the 31L pack with a zipper.
Eventually the road turned into trail and we climbed up for a short way and then a very long descent began. It was steep, muddy and slippery. Mike's feet were painful and Sean was having ITB pain. We were a bit slow coming down this trail. I still need to become more efficient at technical downhill running and hiking.  I'm too slow and a bit hesitant. A weakness of mine for sure. Amongst a couple of teams that caught us in here was Milton Basements.

The trail seemed to go on forever. At one point we met one of the rope guys who was coming out. He was hauling one of the ropes with him and informed us that the abseil down the waterfall had been cancelled as the water level was too high and it was too dangerous. Instead we had to swim one additional pool in the river. Yikes, I had already been dreading the first two and now we had to swim one more. If there is one thing in adventure racing that I really dislike, it's getting wet and cold and they usually come together. At the bottom of the trail a number of teams were gathered. People were hanging around watching what other teams were doing.  I was feeling quite stressed looking at the pools of freezing water ahead of us. I figured that if I was going to get through this, I could not let myself linger. I took my pants, shoes and socks off quickly and stepped into the first pool right behind Bart. We walked out to a large rock and from there we had to swim only a few meters to the next rock. The team ahead of us looked the way I was feeling (tight faces but yet determined). There was not a lot of talking going on. Just people biting together and getting through the task. Bart went for it, swimming with his backpack on. Once he was across I jumped in. I used the dry bag and backpack as flotation device in front of me and managed to keep my upper shoulders above the water. Man, it was cold, but doable for such a short distance. Mike and Sean followed right behind us. They both looked very cold. We hiked around the corner to find the biggest pool. You actually couldn't see the full length of it as you had to swim around a corner with a bit of moving water to your left and then straight across the pool. I was feeling a bit freaked out about this. A long swim in very cold water where we went one by one, without life jackets, without any ropes and no race staff to monitor the situation. This wasn't even a classified dark zone, which I found interesting. The whole river paddle section was a dark zone, but this wasn't. I would not want to do this at night. In less than an hour it would be pitch dark and I knew some teams that would come through at night. Team Spirit was one of them. Again, right after Bart swam across, I followed. I just had to get this over with. I was trying to keep above water as much as possible, but it was so very cold. The pool seemed to go on forever. I'm guessing it was about 50-60 meters, but it felt way longer. Towards the end I was shivering pretty hard and my breathing was short and shallow. 

I was so tense that after the third smaller pool my jaw was stuck. I couldn't open my mouth. This happens from time to time, but it never happened in a race before. I was hoping it wouldn't last as that would prevent me from eating. We stripped off everything wet and put on some dry clothes before pushing the pace during the last minutes of daylight that we had. About 10 minutes after the swim I was feeling warm again and my jaw started working. With the section of the course that had me the most worried, now behind us, I knew I would get through the rest even though we still had a long way to go. We also passed a number of teams around the pools which was uplifting.

What followed after the pool crossing was a canyoneering section along the river and thick forest to find a TA where the river flowed into a lake.  It took many crossings back and forth over the river to move forward as we kept getting cliffed out. It was slow moving and we ended up traveling with a few other teams in here, including the French team SXM. After a while we chose a different route and ended up with a different team following us. We increased our speed and shook them off. Eventually we popped out on the river again and as we were trying to look around to decide where to go next, a guy came flying out of the bush. In quite the panicked voice he asked if we had seen team 50 (BRAT). This was the team that had been following us a while back. We said no and the guy continued to freak out. I told him to use his whistle to see if he could make contact as his team was likely missing him too. He proceeded to tell me he didn't have a whistle. When I told him that he should have one as it is part of the mandatory gear, he stuck his fingers in his mouth and said that he could whistle that way. He did. I also blew my whistle for extra attention. We pointed him in the direction where we had last seen his team and he headed back into the woods. We saw his team later in the race so it seemed like they worked it out.

Our trek continued and towards the end of it we ended up on the wrong side of the river looking for the TA. We got up high and managed to see a fire on the other side. The flames were casting strange shadows and in one of them we could spot a tent and the kayaks for the next section. We had to work our way back a bit and then back down to the river for one final crossing before we could reach the TA. 

The trek had had us wet pretty much the whole time with the many river crossings back and forth and it would be a nice change to get into the boats. At least I thought so until we started the paddle with 4 people in one inflatable kayak. We were pretty much sitting in water and in the dark it was a challenge to navigate the many trees sticking out of the water. Mike was in the front with a good headlamp calling directions to Bart in the back. Bart couldn't always hear what Mike was saying so Sean and I had to relay the messages. The spray from the paddles and the sitting in water had me cold really fast. I was shivering and was getting really uncomfortable. Thankfully we hit a TA after an hour or so of paddling and they had a heated tent where we could warm up. We spent way too long here. Mostly because I was so cold I think. I couldn't think very well and it seemed as if the others on the team were in the same headspace as they were gathering around in the heated tent as well.  Several teams made up lots of time on us while we were warming up. In retrospect I should have just changed, added a layer and we should have kept going. It's interesting what a difference the time of day you travel through an area can make. If you had started this paddle in the sunlight it would have been a nice paddle. At this TA we picked up another kayak and got to paddle two boats for the rest of the way which had us paddling with dry bums.

After sunrise we were starting to get a little sleepy. Sean swore he was seeing houses with nice garages along the shore. I couldn't spot them. He insisted, but I still had no luck spotting them. I still don't know if they were there or not. They probably were as I was the one who seemed a bit out of it. At the bottom end of the lake we took out and portaged the boats about 2km on a road. First steeply uphill and then down the other side to a river. The boys rigged up some ropes and carried the boats while I carried two bags with stuff. 

We were not very efficient here and were caught by another team as we were putting in after the portage. The other team took a break after the portage but they caught up with us again towards the end of the paddle and they looked awesome in the water. They had perfect technique and were really fast. It was a Kiwi team if I recall correctly. Very close to the end of the paddle Sean spotted a Platypus in the water. Very cool! This river paddle was my favourite paddle of the race. It was pretty, I was relatively dry and I managed to stay pretty alert throughout it all.

The TA was a busy one. We had caught up with a bunch of teams and everyone had spread out their stuff in the sunlight to dry out. It was a beautiful and warm day. Where was the rainy Tasmania that I had prepared for? Not that I was wishing for it, but the weather was a very pleasant surprise so far. We put our bikes together, ate, changed, brushed teeth and took a nap. This was a well needed nap as I hadn't slept for our first one. I didn't sleep well in this one, but at least I slept a bit and it was enough to recharge me. It's amazing how only a few minutes of sleep can help the body recover.

I was excited to head out on our first long bike ride at 105km. Biking is still my favourite discipline in adventure racing. If I remember correctly, it started by heading into a muddy trail section where we circled around the system to eventually ride down a muddy and somewhat technical section. This section had a bit of a contrived feeling to it, but this type of trail may be all there is in Tasmania, or perhaps it was the only way to get to where we were going.
I think we popped out on a paved road by a town after the muddy trail. Next came a fun road climb up the side of a mountain. We climbed well and passed Milton Basement near the top. They had headed out on the bikes as we were napping. We stopped and assembled our lights at the beginning of a trail system and continued into the night. It was fun riding in here. We had to cross a skinny bridge over a river and a huge waterfall, which we actually didn't see until we were across and turned our headlamps off. I pushed my bike across on the rear wheel in front of me. A couple of times the wheel went off the bridge and slid down into space. I don't think the whole bike could have slid through but it felt a bit freaky. 

The double track trail continued with a slight elevation gain. Huge puddles of water had to be navigated. Most of them you could ride through. Eventually we started going more downhill and it was a fun ride at night with lots of speed and some splashing water and mud. I took a spill or two as the bike slid out under me. Again we popped out on road by a town. Some teams were hanging out by a public washroom here. I'm not sure if we stopped or just continued on, but soon after this washroom we hit a rail road trail. As we started this trail and were in some bush, a Japanese team came flying by us. We all thought they were showing some awesome speed, but only a few minutes later we caught them riding really slowly. We passed them and I don't think we saw them again. Kind of strange. My memory is a bit foggy from the middle of this ride so I might be missing some pieces, but I remember riding a stretch of highway in a pace line where we were really good at taking short turns up front and putting in a good solid ride. The last bit of the ride took place on forestry roads heading into a CP that was on a creek. Bart and I were riding ahead of Mike and Sean working out our route. I think Mike and Sean were feeling sleepy in this section as they fell behind a few times. I was feeling good and could sense how close we were getting to the next TA. We just needed to keep it together a bit longer and we would hit mid-camp and have our mandatory 6hr stop and get served a hot meal. I was super excited about this. Food and a good sleep would feel like heaven! Our team was sleepy though and it was a bit slow to complete the final section. Mike mentioned that we should have hung back with him and chatted more earlier in the ride to help him stay awake. I hadn't realized that he was sleepy and I had been preoccupied with Bart and with some route finding with him and now felt bad that I hadn't stayed back. When I stayed back in the last couple of kilometers it didn't help much as I think Mike was a little upset. Anyhow, emotions aside, we soon came to mid-camp and everyone's mood picked up. We had also moved up the ranks quite a bit and were now in the high teens. Not sure exactly what position. The highest we climbed was to 16th which we held until the river paddle, but I'm not sure we were that high yet.

At the arrival to mid-camp, we had to wash our bike and shoes as we had been riding in an area with some form of seed that the park rangers and the Tasmanian government did not want to spread into other areas of Tasmania. I didn't mind this washing as our bikes were really muddy. We packed up our bikes and then ordered our breakfast. The kitchen was empty with the exception of a few people sleeping on the floor. We thoroughly enjoyed our eggs, bacon, beans, toast and fresh fruit. Although it didn't fill me up at all. I still felt as if I hadn't eaten. For the past day or so my hunger was constant. In each section I had finished my food before the end and was always feeling hungry. Too bad that our bins were so small and had such restricted weight allowance as it was always food that had to be compromised (since food is what weighs the most). I was pretty lucky though as I received a second slice of toast and the lady who worked the kitchen was Canadian and brought us some peanut butter that we ate straight out of the jar. I gave her a huge hug for that one.

Bart did some blogging and relaying of the messages that friends and family sent us. It was nice, very encouraging and inspirational to get the messages. They also made you feel like you couldn't ever considering dropping out as you would let so many people down. Really good stuff!

So far in the race my body has been holding up well. I got a blister on a heel on the first day that I taped up and my right hand was sore and swollen, but other than that I was feeling good. At times I felt like I had more in the tank to give on the course but of course a team is not often ready to push hard at the same time. When one person is feeling strong, the other is sleepy. We also still had a long way to go so pushing harder earlier may not have been the right thing to do even though I felt like going a bit harder.

We headed off to the tent city set up for all the racers. Here we would get a nice 4hr sleep before heading out on the second half of the course with three big legs ahead of us. A 65km trek, 150km bike and 75km paddle followed by a few shorter sections to the finish (70km bike, 25km trek and 25km bike). Sean had already crawled into a tent, but I didn't manage to find him so I ended up in a tent on my own. I slept pretty well although once the sun came up it got very hot in there. When we woke up and got ready to head out, a lot of other teams were showing up at mid-camp to start their break. It was getting busy for the cooks. I'm glad we were heading out as it was starting to get noisy in tent city. We got ready bang on the second we were allowed to leave. We were hustling Sean towards the end as he looked a bit sleepy and had his stuff spread out all over the place. We offered to help out but I think he was down to the last bits and pieces that he felt he needed to do himself.

Speaking of Sean, what a trooper! The course so far had been fairly tough with the hot first day, the cold water swimming and pretty thick bushwhacking and very little sleep and he just kept plugging on with us. He was doing awesome and you wouldn't know by looking at him that this was his first adventure race. There were moments where I think we could have helped him more, such as in transitions or maybe with some towing when he was feeling low early on but he sure was pulling his own weight!

The trek that followed was a really nice one, and a really different one for us northerners. It started off on a beautiful sand beach that reached as far as you could see. This is the same sand beach where a few days later 20 whales would beach themselves. Way down in the horizon you could see some mountains which Bart explained we were going up and over. But first we would spend the entire day hiking on the beach and up into sand dunes to grab a couple of CPs. A media helicopter flew by a few times with a cameraman hanging out the window. He must have had an amazing view.

The morning hours on the beach were fantastic. Gorgeous waves, blue skies, beach and birds. We saw a couple of teams up ahead of us that we were slowly gaining on and eventually passed. After a while our shoes were starting to feel too small, especially in the toe box. Turned out that they were filling up with sand which wasn't great for anyone with foot issues. We emptied them a couple of times and I don't think anyone on our team suffered too badly from the sand. Coming up on the first sand dunes where we were expecting the first CP we also ran into the TV crew. The cameraman was pretty pleased to run into a chatty team and they spent some time interviewing Bart and followed us around. Some of this video can be found under the day 4 videos on the XPD web site. It was a fun distraction to have the camera crew around for a while.

As the day progressed, the temperature rose. It was cooking hot wandering around on the beach and in the dunes. I was worried about running out of water so I was conserving my drink a little too much. At the next available freshwater source I discovered that I only drank about 500ml throughout the day, which was way too little. The second CP off the beach was also up into the dunes a bit. We spent a little time circling around the area before finding it. We were just hiking back up to one area when another team caught up with us (that we had previously passed). Too bad that we didn't nail it right away.

The temperature was getting hard to deal with, but we didn't have much further to go and we would have to cross a river a couple of times in order to find a CP and a trail leading us up the first mountain. The first swim felt like such a relief and yet the water here was pretty cold. Not quite as cold as the river pools, but not far off. The second crossing took place later in the afternoon when the temperature was cooling a bit and I wouldn't have wanted to swim across much later or in the dark when visibility would have made a difference. I used the same technique of floating my upper body on top of my bag while all the boys swam with their packs on.

The trail that led to a CP and then up the side of the mountain started off pretty muddy. Our feet kept getting soaked and bits of mud kept working its way into our socks. No different than in any other adventure race though. 
My memory of the CPs in this area is a bit foggy, but I think the next one we hit was in a mine hole. Either just before or just after this we took a 20 minute nap on the road as we were getting a bit sleepy. I didn't sleep as I wasn't sleepy yet (our 4hr nap at mid-camp still had me going). 
From up high we had a beautiful view back down to the beach we had hiked all day. And as far as we could see there were headlamp lights from other teams. Many of those teams would have to look for the dune CPs in the dark as well as swim across the rivers in the dark. After the race I heard that some teams had found someone with a motorized boat who had shuttled them across the river. One team realized that this was cheating and apparently felt so bad that they swam back across just to swim back again.

Our trek continued along some road and eventually took us off road and up a mountain side. I remember a bunch of holes in the ground here. I think some of them might have been mining holes. We kept yelling out "hole" to each other. The vegetation wasn't too bad in here but occasionally got thick. It was a bit rocky under the bushes in some spots though and added something to pay attention to. I liked this high area. We got one CP that was up on a rocky peak and I think it was a bit windy up there. The Westcomb jacket was a nice sheltering layer against the wind. 
We then had to work our way back down a ridge and up another mountain to find another CP located up high. We decided that this could be a good time for a nap and await the sun to rise in an hour. We would get a sleep and we would also have an easier time route finding to the next CP. The vegetation in this spot was a tall like grass or bush that worked well as a mattress. Bart let me have the sleeping bag (score!) while the others used their bivy sacks. I slumbered a little but didn't fall into a full sleep. I think I was envisioning spiders crawling on my face which might have prevented me from fully relaxing.

Some more overland traveling towards the next CP had us running into a couple of other teams. One of them was team 50 with the panicked guy from the first long trek. They made it out alive after all. We moved on briskly and hit a double track that lead out to a gravel road. The gravel road felt really tedious. It was warm, dusty and uninspiring. Mike's feet were hurting and I think Bart's ankle was in pain. I'm also pretty sure Sean's feet were hurting even though he didn't mention it. He was limping a little. I felt pretty good physically still. My feet were a bit tender, but not too bad. Some cars came bombing down the road, but I'm not really sure where they were coming from or where they were going to. We got some interesting looks and I think one car slowed down to ask us what we were doing.

The road led us into a little harbor town. The houses were shack-like and most had some sort of fishing related stuff in the yards. The TA was located at the end of town and consisted of a few tents covering the bikes. The sun was pretty intense and we did what we could to stay out of it. I crouched down on one side of my bike box and tried to get into the small bit of shade that it casted. I ate a rice pudding that I had saved in the box as well as a self heated meal. I was out of milk but had a few drops of coke left in a bottle in the bike box. We were setting off on the longest bike ride of the race at 150km so I wanted to start it feeling good

My feet swelled up a lot while in this TA and I was having trouble fitting into my larger bike shoes. They hurt as I was pressing them into the shoes. I also discovered that I had worn off the skin in my bike shorts area and it was quite painful on the saddle for the first 20 minutes or so before it went numb. It's strange how you can feel so good one minute just to feel awful in the next. The start of this bike ride had me feeling a bit low as I was a bit sore, still hungry and on top of that had a bit of an issue riding on a sandy ATV beach road when there was a perfectly nice road  just parallel to this (which of course was prohibited to the racers). I could hear my bike parts grinding away with sand everywhere. I swore to myself never to race again. But just as the low had so quickly hit me, it went away and I felt good again. 

We followed a double track road or trail that we picked up after the sandy parts and followed that until it ended by a huge sand dune. The dune had covered up the trail and we now had to figure out how to get to the next CP. As we were discussing what to do next, team Bones came down on their bikes. Without much discussion they decided to climb up the sand dune and continue that way. We eventually did the same. Once up on the dune we could see team Bones' tracks and a few other much older ones. They all went off onto the dune and into the distance. 

Bart, being the expert navigator that he is, decided that the trail that we had been on must pick up again somewhere just around where we were standing. I searched down one side and Bart another. Only a couple of minutes of searching and Bart yelled from below that he had found the trail. We all headed down into the trees and found it. Unfortunately we had now set a sand trail right into the correct spot that other teams could follow and one team did right away. A shortish bushwhack with the bikes, with some intermittent riding had us pop out right by the CP. Bart's navigation kept being spotless. He pretty much always led us right on top of the controls. He had such a big job in this race with no real backup to hand off to when tired. I think I was the closest to a backup and that isn't much to brag about, or to have much confidence in.

From the CP lots of road lay ahead. The first bit was all gravel and we ended up flying down a hill that led us to a river crossing where race staff was taking us across in one of the inflatable kayaks. It was a short crossing but even so I managed to soak my bike shorts with river water. Bummer. On the other side of the river a bunch of people were greeting us. They were cheering us on, explaining that the team ahead of us was also Canadian (Wilderness Traverse). We then discovered a pub house right on the river with people hanging out partying. The pub had a kitchen with pre-made vegetable wraps. We loaded up on these as well as an order of pizza. Even though the pizza had onions on it, I pretty much swallowed it whole. The only downside to this stop was that I felt we stopped for too long. In retrospect, perhaps we should have just bought more wraps and headed out quicker, but on the other hand it was a fun stop and the food was amazing. Out of the whole race course, this is the part that Mike wants to go back to and visit because he has such good memory from it.

The ride soon continued on the gravel road into the dark. We rode and rode. I remember getting slightly ahead of the team here and when I stopped to let them catch up, the Lupine lights they were all running made it seem like a bunch of cars were coming my way. Brilliant!

The gravel road either just turned into pavement or perhaps there was a turn that took us onto pavement. I don't exactly remember. What I do remember is that it started raining and the gravel turned to pavement. The road also started climbing. And when I say climbing, it was the kind of climbing you only see in the mountains. In fact, this might have been the longest climb I have ever done. I enjoyed it.  Again, I found myself ahead of the group and slowed down a little while letting them catch up. Sean caught up first and we rode together for some time. He mentioned that he was feeling very sleepy. I tried to talk to him as much as possible, but I couldn't often think of what to talk about. The rain increased. We pulled over to wait for Bart and Mike. Sean laid down on the road and fell asleep. I kept talking. Bart and Mike caught up and Mike said he was really sleepy. We couldn't really stop here as the rain was hard and it was cold. We figured we would start descending soon and ride into a town where we would be finding a CP. Perhaps there would be shelter there somewhere, if we were lucky.

The downhill was pretty cold and it was followed by some flatter sections before we hit the town. By the time we got there we were all cold and sleepy. We took a quick look for the CP but didn't find it right away, so we decided to go and check out a public washroom we had seen on the way in. Perhaps it was open and we could warm up there. Bingo! The door was unlocked and we all piled into the one toilet and locked the door. It was like a little bit of heaven. There was a hand warmer to dry our wet stuff and we could all fit on the floor for a sleep. We settled in for a nap. Another team came pulling on the door handle at some point. I later learned from Lucy that it was team Ecuador. They were wet, cold and sleepy too. There was some form of cooking shelter behind the washroom we were in and they managed to get into that for their sleep. Another bunch of happy campers.

After our nap, we headed out and found the CP, but not before first riding all the way down to the river bank and back up again. The instructions for the CP were a bit cryptic if I recall.

Next came another paved section on the highway. Almost immediately we were overheating as we had dressed too warmly after our nap. We stopped and undressed. A lot of cars were out for being so early in the morning. I think it was around 4:30 or 5:00. Perhaps there were still active mines in the area and people were heading to work. I noticed a van pulled over by the side of the road and later in Brisbane I learned that it was Rachel from the race (instrumental in web updates of the race).

We turned onto a gravel road system and started looking for a trail that would take us through to where we were going rather than having to go around a longer way on the highway. We rode with tight bush all around us. I was eating Stingers. I kept shoving mouthful after mouthful in. They were good. When they were all gone I noticed that one of them seemed stuck behind one of my front teeth, right at the front of the roof of the mouth. I kept pushing on it with my tongue, hoping that it would come loose. A couple of times I almost had it. After a few minutes of this I was noticing that it felt a bit weird. Not really like a stinger. Hmm, could it be? No! I didn't want to think about the alternatives so I kept riding and pushing the "stinger" with my tongue. After about 20 minutes of this, finally the thing slipped through the front teeth and I could get a hold of it with my fingers (even though I was wearing gloves). And holy mother €¥%#er! It was not a stinger, it was a $&@€ing leech!!! I screamed out pretty loud. Bart in the front heard me and asked what was wrong. I barely wanted to explain as it grossed me out so much. I kept spitting and rinsing my mouth. Eventually I ate a bunch of chocolate to distract myself from the feeling. From then on, I checked my hands and my bento box (a little bag on the top of my top tube where I keep food) pretty carefully before putting anything in my mouth. This was another low moment for me for sure. Luckily it only lasted for a few minutes, but if I had a choice between going through the leech or the cold pool swim again, I might have to pick the cold pool.

We found a trail that was pretty grown over and decided that the bushwhack would be too tight. We turned around and headed back to the highway. As it turned out we had turned one road too early and we could now turn onto the right road. We found the trail and continued on our way. Again, my memory is a bit foggy. There was a huge fun descent at one point all the way down to a river and a CP by a burnt out cabin, then a long climb back up. What I unfortunately remember the most was a long ATV trail which can better be described as a "mud pit" than a trail. This trail was a hike a bike through deep mud puddles and it seemed to go on forever. We had initially thought that we would arrive at the next TA around late morning or mid-day, but this trail slowed our progression dramatically. It went on and on....and on and on. I stopped and waited with Bart. He seemed pretty low. We chatted about how we might choose to do other types of racing in the future. I think I swore never to adventure race again. Bart was wondering where the "FU" button was on the spot tracker. We laughed pretty hard at that one. Mike caught up and we asked where Sean was. Mike said that maybe he bailed out finally. Who in their right mind would continue to push through this kind of stuff? If any part of the course would have you quit, this might just be it. Mike walked back with a treat and then returned pushing Sean's bike while Sean was enjoying a treat. Sean was yet again showing his strength and declared that he was with the team until the end, whatever we decided the end to be. We pushed on. And in the end, even this trail ended. It first became a little easier and then it turned into a double track or gravel road. At a river crossing which was the next put-in for the river kayak section, we first had to ride 6km up a hill to the TA to collect what we needed and then walk all the way back down the road to the kayak put-in. Blah! Another section just put in there for the sake of making something miserable. Blah!

The ride up wasn't that bad. At least that is how I felt. We met Wilderness Traverse who was coming down the hill with their paddle gear. Bart chatted with Bob a bit. I just waved and continued. The TA was another really hot one. We found shade under the bike tents and packed away our bikes and gathered our paddle gear. I felt like we took too much time in this TA again. While we were finishing up a few teams came into the TA from behind (Team Ecuador, team Bones and SXM I think).  It was about 15:00 when we left the TA and at 19:30 we would need to be off the water as the river was classified as a dark zone. We had heard that at least one team had taken two days to complete the paddle and got stuck in the dark zone twice. This had us worried. Paddling being our weakness we knew we had to work hard at completing this section with only one dark zone stop.

Bart and Mike were hurting going down the hill. Running was not an option so the progression was a bit slow. It was also hot and we were all overheating. We had split up all the things we were carrying with us. Judging by what other teams had with them, it seemed like we had packed a bit much with us. On the other hand if there was the risk of getting stuck in the dark zone two nights we wanted to have enough food with us.

Down by the river, Mike and Sean pumped the boat and we loaded them up for the paddle. Other teams had run down the 6km of road and had caught up with us.  Everyone raced for the first CP on the river to get that out of the way so that we could make some headway before the dark zone set in. We got the CP which was a short bushwhack up from the river bank and managed to paddle for another hour before we were forced to set up camp for the night.

We found a really good spot by a road. It was flat and even had a spot for a camp fire. Sean set the tent up. I borrowed soap from Bart and washed up in the cold river. It felt so nice to wash my hair! We changed into dry clothing and cooked up a bunch of self heated meals. Bart also cooked up some noodles that he shared. By the time he offered hot chocolate though, I was so tired I had to go to bed. What a novelty to get to sleep for 7hrs in the middle of a race! The boys all decided to sleep outside and gave me the tent all to myself. Crazy! I was more than willing to share even though it would be tight. I bundled up in my sleeping bag and fell asleep. It was a restless sleep where the dreams were all about racing. I woke up a few times not knowing where I was or what I was doing, but it was still a good rest. I got up about an hour before decided wake-up time so that I could tend to my feet. I had noticed two huge blisters on my heels and wanted to tape my feet up so that they would last for the rest of the race. When I woke up there was something not quite right going on. There were thunder rumbles all around and it was raining. Crap, the boys were sleeping outside in this! From what I could tell it wasn't bothering them as I could hear at least two sets of snoring going on. I fixed my feet, got dressed and got out. I ate a kit kat for breakfast and was still starving. I ate more junk food and waited for the rest of the team to get ready. I was still hungry.
We put-in right at 6:30 and started our paddle. We knew we had to work hard in order to finish the paddle before 19:30 that evening. It was cooler outside than the previous day and sitting in the front of the hard plastic kayak, I got completely drenched going through every single rapid. At first Sean and I would both paddle when going through a rapid, but Sean figured out that it was better that I stopped paddling and let him do the work through the rapids. Sean did an amazing job on the river! When we completed the first 17km ocean kayak at the start of the race, he declared that it had been the longest he had ever paddled. This section, at 75km, would surely beat that. He kept paddling strong until the very end of the river section. The second checkpoint on the river was a pure bushwhack straight up into the woods. It involved a lot of deadfall and tight bush. Bart nailed the CP. The third and last one was also through the woods but not as challenging. For parts of it we followed a trail. We ran into Team Ecuador and another team here. I was grumpy in this section. I kept tumbling over as I was carrying the tent in my backpack which was sitting awkwardly over my life jacket (we thought we had to carry all the full time mandatory gear on a this section, but none of the other teams that we saw were, so we figured we were wrong, but we only discovered this when going for the last CP). I was also very cold which also added to my grumpy mood. For the past couple of hours I had wanted to change into dry pants, but never took the time as I was also stressed about finishing the river before the dark zone hit again. Sean and I ended up in the water a few times. Once when our boat got pinned on a rock and we fell in and another time when we flipped in a rapid. In the last flip the boat banged me in the head pretty hard and I was thankful for wearing my helmet. Both times, some of our stuff floated down the river and we had to collect our pieces once back in the boat. Unfortunately Sean lost his wetsuit that he had been sitting on. We never found it. Because of the swims in the water I decided not to change again. I would just get wet again. Mike and Bart kept getting hung up on rocks in the shallow rapids. They tore the underside of the boat early on which caused it to get hung up even more, but thankfully they didn't lose the air.

We continued to paddle hard and we arrived at the TA with about one hour to spare (I think). I was really happy to end this section. I was cold. It was too bad that I was wet and cold for the whole paddle or else I think I would have had a great time on the river. The TA was busy with a bunch of teams that had been short coursed. They had been driven from mid-camp to this TA and they were waiting for their bikes to arrive so that they could complete the last few sections of the race. They were watching us as we changed into our bike gear and ate some of our food.  One couple was hanging out by the fire and dried my jacket for me. I re-paid them by sharing some of my food with them. They had been in this TA for 6hrs without any food.

No one else came out of the river before the dark zone started, so we knew we would have an 8hr lead on the team behind us. With the three teams beating us out of the water, we were now sitting in 19th. That being said, two of the teams were not that far ahead. Perhaps we could catch them. I was feeling like we should give it a go as biking is our strength, but I think we fell into a comfortable mood here and sort of stopped racing. I can't remember if we talked about it or not, but it seemed as if there wasn't enough votes for going hard on the bike.

We counted on the next 70km bike section taking about 5hrs and packed food for only 5hrs. I ate all of mine in the first three. My hunger just kept raging. A large portion of the ride was on pavement and we set out on a semi-steady pace. We stopped a lot to futz. Probably taking clothing off or putting more on. We seemed to all need to stop at separate times. We rode past one of our turns, got a little spread out and then had some trouble re-grouping. We were sleepy again. I think we laid down on the side of the road for 20 minutes to recharge. It only helped a couple of us. 

When we hit a gravel road/trail system and collected another CP, we continued in a direction that didn't work out. We had to back track and work our way back to a different route. Our batteries drained at various points. I had brought a spare, but I gave that up to Sean when his battery died before mine. I used my trekking headlamp when my bike battery died. After what seemed like a long time we worked our way back on track and knew we only had about 6km to the TA.  We spent about 90 minutes extra on this section than planned (or about 14km extra).

Mike started falling asleep on the bike and told us he needed to sleep. We asked if he could make it into the TA 6km away as the rest of us didn't need to sleep yet. He felt upset that we decided that he couldn't sleep. This is one of the toughest parts of racing. One member desperately needs sleep while the others are okay.  If you are racing you would normally wait and sleep when more people needed sleep, but when someone is this tired what is the best thing to do? I don't have the answer. On a bike it's hard to help too. We were not very good at helping when someone was sleepy in this race. We should have tried to distract the sleepy person more, by talking, hitting them on the shoulders (like the Swedish team), squirting water or whatever we could have come up with. I was in the same situation on the last bike ride when we were biking in traffic to the finish line, but I think I was the only one falling asleep and thus we kept pushing.

We arrived in the TA safely. I think Bart escorted Mike in by talking to him. They were riding ahead of me and it looked like they were doing fine. In the TA we ate more self heated meals, took a nap and grabbed whatever food we had left, which wasn't much. Just as we were about to head out on the ocean coasteering trek a wicked thunderstorm moved in. A huge downpour soaked the TA and we held back under the TA tent until it had passed. We slept some more on a picnic table.

Once the storm passed, we finally headed out. I think we could have been a bit more efficient through this section even though we were unable to run. We were moving very slowly at times. I had the weirdest sense during this final trek. For some reason I thought I was the only one who wanted to finish the race. I thought everyone else wanted to drop out. I was trying to be extra nice to everyone and at one point I was running ahead to find the good line through the rock. In one spot I thought I would be extra nice and find a way across water by going through the bush so no one would get their feet wet. I thought that would be good for Mike and Sean, but this one bit me in the ass. I followed a trail into the bush which became so thick and tall that I nearly got stuck. Of course Bart noticed this and went through the water outside the bush and spared everyone the misery of the bush. I stopped being nice after that.
The trek was gorgeous. The scenery was amazing with rocky bluffs and the ocean sending big waves into shore. Between the bluffs were beautiful sand beaches. Despite all the rocks being hard on our feet, I'm glad we got to see this section.

The camera crew and some photographers were waiting for us off of one of the high points. We chatted with them and gave them a few posed shots. One of the cameramen, Eric, asked if we had any good stories from the course. I told him my leech story, but I always end up with such bad English and heavy Swedish accent when I'm in a situation like that. I bet the clip won't be used.
One section of the trek took us through a 2km long town. At the end of it we found a convenience store and we all bought ice cream. I also bought a liter of milk which I chugged back in one big sweep. I loved it! The milk was fantastic! Best milk ever! Soothing, cold and a little filling. 
Mike struggled a little in this section and we chatted about his feelings around the race so far. He needed to chat and I listened. I felt bad as some of the struggles he was feeling I felt guilty of causing. I will definitely try to change my approach and choice of wording in future races (although I seem to remember telling Bart in the mud pit that I wouldn't race again).

Up one hill and we were looking for a river bed and a CP that would be about 20 meters off of it. I was walking behind Bart and he was totally sleep walking. He nearly stepped off the trail and at one point he bent over to pick something off the ground. I asked him if he was hallucinating. He denied it but I think I called him a liar. That was a classic hallucination move. He asked if I could help look for the CP. We backtracked a little and saw some old dried up creek like features and Mike spotted the CP from the trail. Good stuff as we later learned that some teams spent many hours searching for this CP.

More rocks, some highlands and some more rock and beach took us to the final TA of the race. It could not come soon enough. It wasn't until this TA I managed to shake off the feeling that nobody else wanted to finish the race. We had a quick change over to bike gear, spotted a scorpion in the grass and started the final bike ride to the finish line. A little fat dog was running with us all the way up the hill from the TA to the main road. He impressed us all with his fitness. Bart was worried that he would continue to run with us but he eventually turned back home.
This last ride was a struggle for me. I kept falling asleep on the bike and waking up when my wheel touched the grass of the shoulder. I tried to eat to stay awake. I hit my own face and I was talking to myself, but nothing seemed to work. We put a pace line together and I kept falling behind. At one point I got upset at the boys thinking "now you can ride fast! Where was this riding in our previous bike section?” Then I looked down at my speedometer and noticed that we were only going 16km/hr. I had to admit that I was the one loosing it! We grabbed a CP on a smaller road and soon hit the main highway. This was a scary road to pace line on as every time you peeled off the front you had to expose yourself to traffic and the traffic had no respect for cyclists in Tasmania. They would hammer by and leave no extra room for us. I found this section really scary, especially in my sleepy state.

With less than a kilometer to go to the finish, Mike suddenly disappears into a parking lot where there was a toilet. It felt like forever before he came out, but finally we were riding again and this time I knew that there would be no more stops as I could see the finish line ahead. We turned into the oval where we were greeted at the finish line in 19th place with our flag. Bart and I grabbed the flag and the four of us started our victory lap. When I dropped my end Mike took over and finished the lap. Craig Bycroft greeted us when we stopped and we chatted a bit before heading inside. About what I can't remember. Inside the building we were treated to pizza slices and champagne as well as our time in the finish line lounge chairs. I was so tired and out of it that I laid down on the floor with my feet up and fell asleep. Apparently there was a photo of that floating around the Internet.

I'm very happy with our achievement and placing. Considering the foot issues and leg issues on the team we continued to the end. My goal going into the race had been a top 15 position and I think that was within our reach until we had the health issues pop up. I also think we could have stayed on the team just ahead of us if we had put our will together as a team, but I understand how we ended up falling into the comfort zone when no teams were threatening us from behind. My team mates in this race were awesome. All of them! Bart as usual demonstrated his superb navigation, Mike had us all fed and organized in many of the TAs and he pushed on despite sore feet, and Sean showed huge strength, both mentally and physically, sticking by us in his first adventure race ever while also suffering from painful feet.

Thank you Wild Rose for another huge memory!!! Where are we going next?