Wednesday, September 24, 2014

North Country Endurance Challenge

Accident's (didn't) Happen

North Country Endurance Challenge

The idea started Memorial Day Weekend with a few beers on a beach. I was told of a new race in New Hampshire that consisted of a 40 mile mountain bike, 13 mile trail run, and 9 mile paddle; a true mountain, adventure race spread out in 9 stages. Since Crystal, my ace support person, would   
be 8 months pregnant on race day, attempting a solo race would be way too much. In comes my racing and outdoor buddy Mark Trahan. We were sipping some beers on that sunny day when I suggested racing the NCEC as a duo. Before I knew it, he had a mapped out game plan. I suppose he was in.

That night, sipping some more beers, our name 'Accidents Happen' came to be. Mark was also expecting his first child and, similar to Crystal, Marks support, Astrid, would be 7 months pregnant. Yet, and even though we had some good laughs, our future bundles of joy were no accidents!  Our name referred more to our accident prone nature.

As such, accidents did happen, Three weeks prior to race day, I took a fall off my mountain bike cracking 3 ribs. Then on the week of the race, Mark's wheelset got damaged and with no available fixes, he was forced to use Astrid's mountain bike.  All we could hope for now is that we could finish the race in 1 piece.

So then our adventure began, Mark, Astrid and kid to be, and John, Crystal, and girl to be made a plan to head out to the far North Country of New Hampshire to race in the wild North Woods.

The Drive

 Getting to Pittsburg and Colebrook from western and central mass is no quick chore, but the drive is beautiful. I would recommend taking the Friday off and  enjoy the scenic back roads and small towns. For the mountain biker, consider stopping in West Burke for some warm up laps in the Kingdom trails followed with an ice cream carbo load. We all agree that next year we would like to make the voyage to Colebrook a weekend getaway.

The Relay Breakdown

After given new information from the race meeting, specifically a lengthening of the second run leg, we decided to alter our initial strategy. Our plan was as follows

Leg 1  kayak 4 miles -Mark,                       Leg 5-Run 10.5 miles -John
Leg 2- Run 3 miles -John,                           Leg 6- Bike 9 miles- Mark
Leg 3- Kayak 5 miles-John,                        Leg 7- run/hike 3 miles- Mark
Leg 4- Bike 7 miles-Mark,                          Leg 8- bike 14 mile -John
                                                                     Leg 9  bike 10 miles-Mark

Mark got to have more legs, but I got the longest version of all the legs. We will forever continue to argue who worked harder.

Race day is not for a late sleeper. We were up at 4:30 in the morning to make a 6:00 race start. Given that we didn't actually get to bed by 11:00 this is a good time to say how awesome  our (pregnant) support crew is!

Earlier Morning Start 
Our drive out to First Connecticut Lake was picturesque. There was something special and significant about racing in the headwaters of a river I live right next to, but 300 miles south. Most of the roads between transitions points were on wooded dirt roads adding to the lure of the Great North Country

The Race

Stage 1. Kayak 4 miles: Mark

The race sets off with a grand start under the "Untammed New England" arch with a cannon launch. I always appreciate the theatrics of a race start and North Country didn't disappoint. Mark was giving the paddle a go in my West Side Exceed. The boat is old with plenty of dents, scratches and leaks but she stays afloat and can still keep up with the surf skis. Mark, coming from a strong whitewater background did fantastic edging out the competition given us a short lead heading into the 2nd leg.

Stage 2: Run 3.1 miles: John

Stage 2 is generally flat with only some technically and slippery single track at the beginning. The hardest part for me was my shoe coming untied 1 mile in. I was thinking to myself "this is exactly how we get our name" but still didn't bother to stop and tie it.  Solo racer James Kovac passed me about mile 2.5 but I choose to stay back saving energy for the much anticipated 2nd run leg.

Stage 3: Paddle 5 miles: John

I transitioned from the run right into the kayak. James Kovac was just in front, paddling a West Side Thunderbolt. As I came up on James I realized that I forgot where is was going. Note to self, look at the map a bit more before racing. Calling at James for directions, he told me where to go. Francis Lake is a long finger-shape lake with views of the surrounding Great North Woods . We paddled the full length of this pristine lake. Very beautiful. 

Stage 4: Mnt Bike 7 miles: Mark

The first bike stage was the shorter, less technical, but with a challenging steep climb. Some riders used cross bikes, some mountain bikes. Mark used his wife's bike. That didn't slow him down though as he was able to hang on to the lead. For future support crew, don't dawdle too long between transitions. We just where able to beat Mark to the next transition with just 5 minutes to spare.


Stage 5 Trail Run 10.5 miles: John

Wow! This run was intense. One of the most rugged 10.5 mile runs I have done.  The course was a mix of dirt roads and what seemed like abandon jeep roads with knee high grass, shrubs and ankle deep mud. The course at times felt more like bushwacking then trail running. If the difficult footing was not enough, the trail was covered in moose tracks and I counted at least 3 piles of bear scat

My GPS Data

Assessing the hurt

Stage 6 Mnt Bike 9 miles: Mark

After the 10.5 mile run, Mark took the next two events given me a chance to recover before the 14 mile ride. Mark would start with a 9 mile mnt bike followed by a 3 mile run over the Table Top mountain. To be honest I don't know much about the bike except it was mostly jeep roads. Mark will have to fill me in later.

Stage 7 Mountain Run 3 miles: Mark

Truth is, I might have been a little jealous that Mark got to run this leg. I heard the climb had a great view from the top and a sweet, fast single track downhill. With that said, even though Mark is a self proclaimed "non runner", when it comes scrambling up and down mountain tops, he performs with the best of them.

Mark needs all the directional support he can get

Stage 8 Mnt Bike 14 miles:  John

The website course description described this leg as the most challenging and technical of the mountain bike legs. I actually thought it wasn't too bad. The leg does climb 1500 feet in 8 miles, but all the climbing was on non technical jeep roads. True, I did walk, but that was because I realized I could hike faster than spin/ The descent was more technical via a rocky atv trail. It wasn't single track, but I still yelped a few woots. One the biggest challenges was all the mud to contend with, My bike got a full mud bath, as well as my face. Once over the climb, this was a fun bike leg!

GPS Course:

Stage 9 Mnt Bike

Last stage went back to Mark. This was an easier mountain bike stage finishing in downtown Colebrook. Colebrook is a quaint town center with some restaurants and a few shops. The finish had a band and a few vendors. Unfortunately the rain came down hard just as we finished and the band and vendors had to pack it up. Given better weather,  I could imagine the finish to be a great place to hang out while cheering on other racers. We sat in the rain and  the car until our friend Josh Flanagan (winner of the solo division), finished up. After that, we both felt a bit of hypothermia kicking in, so off to the motel we went. 

Later that night all the racers gathered at the Dancing Bear Restaurant for a tasty dinner of cheeseburgers, hot dogs, potato and macaroni salad, cookies, etc. The ceremony part was short and I think the organization could work on adding some more excitement when announcing the winners, or at least give out some times. I have always enjoyed the 1st/2nd/3rd boxes used in many bike races.

Overall Review

I Loved this race and look forward to competing again.  This is my favorite type of adventure race, mountain biking, paddling and trail running! A few highlights
  • Superb course, scenic, challenging, and fun
  • Great Support throughout. Well marked trails,
  • For the price of the race, you get your moneys worth and then some
  • Good post race at the Dancing Bear.

My 2 cents in how to make the race even better!

  • Since organizers require jerseys, they should provide at least 2 per team. Having to take off a teammates sweaty shirt and put it on your own back takes away from the excitement of the transition and seems unnecessary 
  • Provide at least 2 bike numbers. Again, removing from one bike to another is a waste of team and is just annoying. In addition, I could see someone in a rush accidentally taking out a hydraulic cable.
  • Finish the meeting a bit earlier...Its a real early start, we need our sleep
  • We saw some moving class 1-2 water. Any chance to incorporate a downriver segment?

Team Accidents Happen are looking to coming back next year, but we may have to change our name to Team No Sleep with our toddlers. 

Crystal, John and our little Speedster

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