Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fun on the Mountain: The 2014 Great River Challenge

What is an "Off Road Triathlon"?

Well, start off by twisting, pushing, and pulling yourself as you propel a kayak or canoe through fog, current, and or wind as you gaze along mountains, woodlands, and farms . Then take your run and bike, turn the pavement into single track trails and add some rocks, roots, steep climbs and fast and technical descents. String it all this together and you have the Great River Challenge!

You will be working your heart and lungs just as much as any  'traditional tri', but now you have to add concentration, balance, and agility.  The endorphin you will get from this 'non traditional' race will only be heightened with the adrenaline of playing in the woods.

The Great River Challenge is situated in beautiful Northfield Mountain. Athletes of all abilities came to tackle the 5 mile paddle, 4 mile trail run, and 7 mile mt bike in teams and individuals.

For this race report,  I focused on the solo division as this was the division I was competing in. With that said, many athletes came to Northfield to just play and engage in the outdoors with other like minded people. Everyone I talked with could not have been happier with the atmosphere and community that a race like this creates.In one racers words, it was an "A+".

 Let's break down the segments.

The Paddle

The organization of this race was truly impressive. The paddle took us up the CT river around an island and back down to a dock. Volunteers supported paddlers into and out of their boats. (no boats had to be dragged!) Volunteers then took the boats and placed them into a holding area so racers could continue along with their race. The launch area itself was situated on a large picnic area with pavilion and bathrooms. The race did get started a bit late, but given this is their first year, I am not bothered by the delayed start.

As for weather this year, a calm, quiet fog hung over the waters at the start of the race creating a dreamy-like start  but then the sun broke through as boaters finished their leg.

Me in my Westside Exceed. 
Racers used an assortment of boats, kayaks, canoes, surf skis, k1s etc. Like other gear dependent sports, the right equipment will provide an advantage. In this case, surf skis and k1s will typically dominate. They are tippier than recreational boats, but the thrill and push of paddling at 6-7 mph adds to at least my enjoyment. Think of a high end mountain bike over a hybrid bike. Once in one of these boats, a whole new world of paddling technique and balance enters into the equation.  Much like swimming, there is much speed to be gained from good technique.

Here is a strava link to the course

On Left. Fastest female kayaker and third fastest overall, Kari Crowe, She is paddling an Epic V14. Notice her form..pulling with the torso, entering the recovery, preparing for the catch.

Below LeftFastest kayaker and race organizer, David Thomas in a Stellar SEI.  Stellar is an amazing kayak and surf ski company that produces some of the fastest, most comfortable boats in the world (No, I am not sponsored by Stellar, nor did get paid for that comment) and David is the Brains behind the operation. Located in our backyard in Norhfield. If you are going to buy, buy local!
Below Right:  I finished 1 minute behind Dave and 2nd overall.

The Trail Run

I finished with the 3rd fasted run time...but who had the 1st ?
Pic would be nice too.

On Left: 

The run was essentially 1 hill, 678 feet up and then back down, all in 4 miles. Racers ran from the kayak transition up a short stretch of paved road, across a grassy field, and then into the Northfield Mountain trail system. The trails are just about all single track, very well marked, with the occasionally log to jump over and rocky/rooty section to negotiate.  I would rate the technicality of the trail as easy to moderate ( Advanced  for me is Seven Sisters). With that said, the hills were surprisingly challenging. I pre-ran the course 2 weeks prior with not too much difficulty. On race day though, I was having a hard time lowering my heart rate and breathing after the kayak segment. I ended up walking some of the steeper sections.

I was able to move into first place overall I knew there were some fast runners behind and pushed when I could to build a lead before entering the mountain bike section.

Link to trail run course

The Mountain Bike

Matt Pomeroy destroyed the course in blazing time making him the fastest mountain biker of the day.
It's looking like he may be catching some air on this move!
The mountain bike course blended single track hiking trails and double track ski trails. The course, though only 7 miles, was indeed challenging. The climb to the top of Northfield Mountain was unrelentless, though not technical. Being in the front of the pack, I kept looking over my shoulder waiting for someone to overtake me.  Later, I heard a cyclist pulled this off in a single speed. Wow.

After making it to the top, the descent was pure single track fun. Not technical, but indeed a mountain bike decent. After what felt like a slog for the last hour, the ride down the mountain was pure bliss. At this point I forgot I was racing and just having fun. This was a GREAT way to finish!

Link to mountain bike course

Above Left: Mark Trahan with the money shot! Mark finished 3rd soloist and 4th overall! 
Above Right: Me coming down the final stretch to win soloist and overall!


I finished first place overall and first place soloist!
Racing should not be about the awards, but I would be lying if I was to say if I have not enjoyed receiving recognition for a race performance. The Great River Challenge had some SWEET prizes for awards. Very unexpected especially given that it was their first year. With that said, if you are racing for prizes, my tip to you is to go for the "fastest" time per event. The fastest kayaker won themselves a high end fiberglass paddle from Stellar. Fastest runner grabbed a certificate for a new pair of running sneakers. The fastest biker took home a sweet pair of high end sunglasses (sorry..i forgot the brand).  There were also some nice raffle prizes that all were entered in including a really nice (and expensive) watch from Suunto (Suunto Ambit2) and a white water rafting trip and zip-lining from Zoar Outdoor.  
Bellow are some of the sponsors that came out to support their races and share their love of the outdoors.  I really enjoyed talking with all of them and hope they come back next year.

Suunto!! Raffled an Ambit 2. A super generous
gift...I just wished i won it!
Stellar Kayaks! I love these boats!

EMS Donated water bottles, gear, and raffled
a backpack. Thanks for coming out!
Friends of Schell Brdge
Read their story! Great Folk! Loved  talking with them!

Great racing again with my buddy Mark Trahan.  By this time next year we may have some infants with us!  Any thoughts of including a day care tent?

I loved this race and love the potential this race has. Please consider it for your next fall event. I would love to see the Great River Challenge become a staple racing race in western MA for years to come!

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