Friday, September 30, 2011

2011 MOMAR Cumberland Race Report

Back injuries suck. I know. I have had one now for the past 10 months and have had some good experience now dealing with it. While I have had many ups and downs, I think I finally have things figured out. A bit of extra rest, back mobility exercises, core strengthening, and a dash of acute listening for any signs that I might be doing a bit too much was just what I needed.

Being sidelined for Raid the North Extreme was tough, but on the other hand, it put things into perspective for me and also allowed me time to heal and work out a recovery plan. Limiting my time on bike was probably the best thing for my body as the flexed over position of the back kept adding extra strain that my back didn't want to deal with. On the other hand, running has been going well since I tend to do well with my back in a neutral position. Gradually, I was able to add some distance until my form came back to a decent shape and I felt confident going into MOMAR Cumberland that I should be able to put in a decent performance.

The Cumberland MOMAR in 2005 was my first ever adventure race and even after 13 additional MOMARs, I still always look forward to making it back. Every year seems to be the same for the weather as well; despite rain and storm warnings, the day of always seems to manage to hold off and provide a decent window of weather. This year was no exception.

The kayak stage this year was shrouded in fog which added a nice touch of mystery as you couldn't quite see where you were going to go next. I managed to borrow a friends Seaward Quest which is a pretty fast ocean kayak with a relatively narrow beam and with a long 19 foot waterline. I briefly tried out a surf-ski the week before the race and quickly decided against using it due to my inexperience in getting back in after a capsize and not being used to the position which could compromise my back (and race). Thus, I choose the Quest and this boat helped me keep a good draft with the doubles and kept me close to the front of the pack. I had a pretty good paddle and felt fairly fresh to get on the legs once we hit the beach and transition area.

In a twist this year, Bryan Tasaka put in a big trekking section right after the paddle; when I say big, it was a maybe 13km but for some racers, this section turned into a half marathon. After three checkpoints, I was racing at the front of the pack with Norm and Stephan from Frontrunners, Shane And Garth of Team PIT, and Marhsall House and Ryan Pogue who destroyed the paddle section in a double surf-ski. Maybe it was group mentality or the symbology of the map but all of us missed a small track we were supposed to take as we were all looking for what was shown on the map as a road. Whether the track should have been shown as a trail or road was not really what caused all of us and several other racers to have problems though; there turned out to be a short logging spur road just down from the track and this spur road wasn't marked. Thus, we started to aimlessly bushwhack from the end of the spur road assuming that there must be a trail just around the next tree. I knew early on that this couldn't be correct so I decided to climb the hill to the north and see if I could catch onto another existing trail (if we were in fact in the right location, than there should be a trail at the top of the climb). At this point, Marshall tried to get Ryan to follow but in a few moments, I was out of sight. The top of the climb had nothing but an old overgrown logging road heading down. I knew then that we must have veered to far south and that a quick additional bushwhack to the north would get me in the right place. After some cursing and a swamp crossing, I was on the correct track and had racers everywhere. A few more curses and I was off to climb up to control 4. I had lost over 20 minutes and now had some serious catching up to do.

The rest of the trek went like clockwork as I passed several other teams and ended up running into the bike transition tied with Jeremy Grasby for 2nd overall and with Roger and Hayden just ahead of us in the top spot. My transition was clean, I wished Jeremy luck, and started on the big bike climb to catch the leaders. At this point, I was feeling quite good although my legs were a bit on the sore side due to the extended trekking section I did. I caught Roger and Hayden and continued at a good clip to the top of the climb with only a short hike a bike in the steepest part.

Just before hitting up CP12, I tore open my sidewall on my rear tire. Shitty. While I do run tubeless and the stans sealant might have held, the tear was a bit on the long side and I would need to add additional air anyway. I tried to run the tire as is but shortly after dropping onto the Bear Buns trail, I knew that I was losing air and had to stop. A quick tube install and CO2 did the trick but unfortunately, my CO2, being designed for 26" wheels, was not enough to give me enough pressure so I had to use my stupid pump anyway. Jeremy had already passed me and just as I finished getting the tire up to pressure, I heard Roger and Hayden coming down the trail so took off before I was in sight.

My riding was a bit labored after stopping for 5+ minutes but I quickly regained myself and I started to have a fantastic ride. It was now Grasby and I and hard as it would be, I would try to track him down (Grasby is a phenomenal single speed rider who builds and knows his local trails inside and out so catching him would be a big effort). After a few checkpoints, I rolled in and tried to get a time on Grasby.

"Uh, you're in first."
"What??? Grasby hasn't rolled through here yet?!"
"No, you're the first one."

While I was ok with taking first, I couldn't figure out what could have happened other than that he took a wrong turn (which turned out to be the case). I hammered down the last part of the course and rolled into the final TA to complete the final orienteering stage of the race. This section started out very sloppy with getting totally confused with the scale of the map and thinking I was on a trail that I actually wasn't. I wasted a bit of time and soon heard that both Grasby and Roger & Hayden were also out in the 'O' course. I really tried to focus, had a clean back part of the stage and went to punch the last control... where is it! Turns out, some kids at the campground took down the final control so with Carl Coger hurrying over to replace it, I ran into the finish shoot and ecstatically took my 9th overall MOMAR win.

While I wasn't super happy with how I raced with making a nav mistake early on and losing concentration going into the orienteering stage, I was overjoyed that I came through after such a hard effort and had absolutely no back issues whatsoever. It really seems like I have a good plan that is working for me and that it is letting me compete to the level where I would like to be.

Another big shout out to all the awesome volunteers who helped make this event run like clockwork and for Bryan Tasaka who put on yet another premier event.

Gear and Fuel:
CarboPro Powder ~1000 cal
2 gels
2 fruit bars
Ultima Electrolyte Mix
Hammer Endurolytes (~40) yes, 40

Salomon AR Raid bag
Merrell Pure Glove Barefoot shoes

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Sidelined for Raid the North Extreme

Hey Team,
I am injured and will not be able to race Raid the North Extreme. This fucking sucks. Everything since the Burnaby MOMAR had been going well; my training was ramping up, I felt great and was so looking forward to this upcoming race. I had no signs of any problems whatsoever until last weekend when my back flared up during and XC mountain bike race. My lower back generally gets sore during an all out mountain bike race so it didn't cause any alarm bells. The course was super mucky due to torrential morning rains so I decided to pull out of the race to avoid any injuries. The rest of the weekend was great and I resumed some runs and bike rides into the week. Then, one day late last week, my back spasmed out and I was back to square one again. WTF! I went to see my physio who has been so helpful to me at this point, and I found that I do infact have a bulged L4/L5 disc. He has had tons of experience with this injury as he has worked with the National Rowing team in which this type of injury is very common. While he said that I could be racing a short event in as little as a few weeks, doing something like RTNX is just not possible. It is the type of injury that if it occurs (during the race), there is absolutely no possibility of continuing on and 'pushing through the pain'. When your back shuts down on you, you are like a pile of shit on the floor. There is also a very real possibility of rupturing/herniating the disc which could mean years off and never a full recovery. Regardless, I told myself that I would see how the recovery went over the weekend as this occurrance has not been quite as bad as previous ones. Everyday gets better but the fact that I still can't tie my shoe laces from a standing position tells everything. You have no idea how fucking aggrivating this injury has been (or at least I hope you don't). The biggest problem up to this point has been the lack of knowledge in how to go about healing. Unlike other injuries, in a week from now, I will feel great and could go about 'normal' sedentary activities without hint of injury. But, as soon as I push anything, relapse occurs and I start the process all over again. At least I will have some guidance this time around to really know what exactly I should and shouldn't be doing and at what kind of intensity level. Obviously, when I said yes to this race, I had no idea that this would once again occur and this is really a complete surprise to me that I have to write this.

For the team, I really hope we can all find a strong replacement that will be able to completment the team. I will do whatever I can to search for and recommend another teammate.

Again, this totally fucking sucks but I guess this is life.


To My Back,
Why do you keep letting me down. I am here, ready and able to take on any challenges that I may face and when facing these obstacles, you wither like a plucked flower on a hot day. One moment, my whole being is ripe with energy, toes gripping the ground with firing calves, quads and hamstrings ready to let go. The next moment I am a blob of useless mass lying on the floor... all because of you. All this power that you decide to hinder. What's worse is that you blow up at the most inopportune times. You are so self-centred. I cannot tell you enough how frustrated I am in your ability to continually let me down. I hate you. I wish you would leave my life forever. You're a useless coward. I wish you were dead.

However, I cannot replace you so have to live with your petty gripes that aim to ruin my life. You are delegating me to sit on a bus and read books while my bicycle collects dust in my shed. My main mode of transportation and the freedom of my life is now in your hands.

Does this make you feel powerful to be able to control me so?
How does it feel to be in such control?

Can we just talk about this? Really? I mean, what is it that bothers you so? I thought you liked biking. Not to mention running and paddling and climbing and the various other pursuits that we have bonded together with over the years. You never mentioned anything problematic to me before. Is it something I said? Do you want to be a normal person who only walks to and from the car for exercise? Should I start to take the elevator at work? Please talk to me!!!

I'm sorry I'm feeling so bloody frustrated and taking it out on you. Please get better soon so that we can resume the things we love doing so dearly.
Your friend for life,


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Life, Injury and Suffering at the MOMAR Burnaby

Firstly, it has been a long time since I updated this blog. 2009 to be exact. I think the lag was due to me not wanting to spend so much time in the virtual world of social media and actually doing more things that I enjoy. Like most of us, I spend my working day behind a monitor (two 24" monitors for me) so the thought of getting home and sitting behind another monitor yet again has become less and less appealing; so much so that I try to keep my weekends completely internet free. That being said, I am going to try to keep my blog relatively up to date as I do appreciate a blog's abilility to allow others to follow along with what I've been up to.

2010 was a busy year for me with moving back from Norway, buying my first house with Kim in the beautiful village of Brentwood Bay, doing tons of cycling including partaking in the Island Series mountain bike races and, of course, the Squamish and Cumberland MOMARs.

Moving to Brentwood Bay meant that I would in-effect double my cycling commute from 22km to 45km round trip. So, needlesstosay, I was putting in lots of distance on my commuter bike plus lots of mountain bike riding on top of it along with running three days a week. Then, one day in November, a couple days after a mountain bike incident and the day after I was shovelling snow, I woke up and my lower back hurt. The next day and for the next week I was doing the hunched over old man walk and literally could not stand up straight. This eventually subsided but still left a constant numb pain that would not go away. I saw a physio, two chiros, and a massage therapist over the next five months who all helped alleviate the pain but were not able to solve the problem. The only diagnosis that I was given was that it was likely a herniated disc and it would simply take lots of time to heal.

During the five months, I could not bike much, could not run, and paddling was ok but I could not go for too long before aggrevating my lower back. I was on the bus almost everyday and was becoming depressed (the never ending winter didn't help either). Also, I have had some minor injuries in my life but never something that kept me down for so long. My back would start to feel great but then suddenly, I would find myself back in a relapse. It was a very trying time.

Then, about five weeks ago my doctor recommended that I see a physio who is a back specialist. His name is John Hunter, works out of Shelbourne Physiotherapy, and he saved my life. Ok, well he helped to fix me!

A month ago I was unsure whether I would be able to do Raid the North Extreme let alone do the MOMAR or any other events as I had yet another relapse. I booked an appointment with John but I was not overly optimistic that he would be able to do much. Within a couple of minutes working with me, he explained exactly what my problem was, how he was going to help me fix it and that I would be on my feet running and cycling fine in as little as a week or two! Every other practictioner up to that point had provided me with treatment that termporarily relieved the pain but didn't diagnos or solve the problem.

So, the diagnosis... my upper back was not very mobile and my hip (particularly my right hip) was very tight (both likely due to the excessive amount of biking I was doing at the time leading up to the injury). All this tightness meant that one area, my low back, was doing all the mobility (hyper-mobile) and when I tried to bike or run, my low back would be aggrevated. So, no herniated disc and easy to fix. The solution? Roll out my upper back, stretch my hip area and get some IMS therapy to help release these areas. IMS is like accupunture except the needles are stuck in trigger point areas of muscles and are pulled out after the muscle spasms. Yes, it is a bit painful and yes, you do go into a full sweat but I must say, it definitley works!

After the first IMS treatment, I biked back from the clinic with no low back pain whatsoever. I was sold. It completely made sense to me now that the pain I was feeling was from tight muscles in my hip 'pulling' on my low back during exercise and my tight upper back was putting extra stress on my low back during mobility. I did the exercises he recommended, went back for some additional IMS treatment, and three weeks later I was feeling great. During this time however, I wasn't running but was biking more than usual.

For the MOMAR, I made a decision not to race on the Tuesday prior to the race as I told myself that it would be stupid to enter and potentially re-injure myself. Me to Gary Robbins:

Hey Gary,
...haven't told anyone this yet, but I am not going to be racing. I am doing super well but can definitely not put in a performance that I would want to put in and since I cannot not race, it could be possible to set me back in terms of injury which I don't want to risk for RTNX.

On the other hand, I knew that my injury was not a serious thing (nothing was really broken) and my body was functioning how it should. And besides, I got in two 'solid' runs, one of which was a 4km run on a track (longest run in 6 months), that week so that should prepare me well right? I also hadn't taken my mountain bike out in three months but that's no big deal right? So, two days after sending Gary my race 'resignation', I somehow turned things around in my head all the while Kim is looking at me in disbelief. She has a lot of sense that girl but for somethings, you just have to go with instinct (or have to be missing something up top). Either way, two days before the event, I replied to Gary:

Hey dude.

Will be racing tomorrow. Feeling great and my back has given me no issues over the past week which is the longest it has been in 6 months! Pretty stoked that I finally figured this all out.

That was my long winded catch-up intro from my life going into this past MOMAR. So, yeah, wasn't really prepared for this one, but I was just going to have fun right? I don't NEED to race. I can just hang back and have fun right? Apparently, I can continue to fool myself into this thought which immediately disappears come race time. To be fair, I knew that I would be suffering regardless and was secretly hoping that I would be far enough back that a podium finish would be out of the question and then I would just get through the race and have fun; this is how the race started for me.

I showed up with a regular fibreglass sea kayak and after the gun, fell into a decent pace behind Brent and Sara getting a nice draft off their double Passat. All was going well until about a 1/4 way into the paddle, my right foot went to the bulkhead, and my kayak turned sideways into a traffic of boats. My rudder cable snapped and with that, I had to paddle the rest of the stage rudderless; this wasn't a huge deal as I own a rudderless boat myself but lean turning does not work so well in a boat designed for a rudder and thus, I had to do lots of sweep strokes to keep myself going straight. Bart Jarmula was a rocket on the water and I was glad to see him so far upfront; this made me relax, not to worry about the race or pushing too hard, and so I continued to chat with Brent and Sara.

I came off the water almost 13 minutes behind the Bart and many other racers. On the bike, my legs felt a bit stiff but decent. I did manage to get in 120km on the bike the week prior so knew that the biking would be relatively fine but that I was going to suffer on the runs. The first bike stage was going fine until we hit the steep gravel climb. My bike is currently setup as a 1x9 with a 32 tooth single front ring. While I love this setup on my Salsa El Mariachi 29er, I simply did not have the fitness to use the lowest gear. Thus, I was relegated to walking all the steep pitches and trying to pedal where I could. Having passed several teams, I made it to the first orienteering stage in good time and proceeded to pick off the checkpoints. I had a relatively clean run but could not really 'run' any of the uphill sections as I knew that if I tried, my legs would explode on me.

Coming off the 'O' stage I was informed that I was now in 2nd place! This was both good news and bad news. The good news was that I cut the gap to first place from 13 down to 5 minutes. The bad news was that there was lots of course left and I would now go into full-time suffer mode as I was now officially racing for 1st.

On the bike and into the singletrack, I came around a corner confronted with a trail walker. I looked up, lost my concentration for a split section, and went down hard on my hand and right quad after my front tire just barely hit a small log sticking out from the side of the trail. This incident left me with two lost water bottles full of race fuel and from that point on, the rest of the race started to take on an inebriated blur. I recall riding down the trails 'gear jammer' and 'lower snake' continually saying to myself outloud 'stay focused', 'relax', 'flow' as my concentration began to wane.

I hit up the trek stage and for the first time, had Bart in my sights and as he turned off of the road climb onto the gravel track service road, he saw that I was chasing him down. I passed a walker shortly after who told me it looked like Bart was hurting. I think he said that before he looked how pathetic I looked. We came into transition almost neck and neck with Bart having a slight lead out on the bike. A short time into the climb up and my legs began to sieze. Time for more electrolytes; I was popping them like candy to ward off the creeping cramps that kept wanting to shut me down. I don't think I've ever taken so many in such a short time (about 40 by the race end).

Bart and I continued to battle it out with him gaining on me on a couple climbs that I could no longer muster the strength to climb on the bike. Two checkpoints before the final 'O' stage, we were together going for the control when Bart could not locate his passport and had to turn around on the bike to find it. I felt really bad for him and did not feel great if that was the deciding factor that determined the race winner. However, with nothing I could do, I went on into the final section of the race.

At this point, my mind was crumbling so much so that I did not realize that the final bike portion had been cancelled (no one told me) but this should have been obvious as the O stage was the final leg of the race. I stumbled around picking up checkpoints as I tried to run in my bike shoes and helmet, which I had forgotten to change, and was afraid that if I stopped moving to do so, that I would be down for the count. Going for my last control, I then realized that I had yet to get the now infamous control 'G' which was on the extreme opposite side of the map. At the same time, I found out that, yes, this was in fact the last stage and I was about to be done... minus control G.

I put in the best run I could muster and because the control was an out and back, I knew that if I saw Bart coming the other way early on, that there was no way that I would be able to catch him. I kept running and running and eventually saw the control with no one in sight. Either Bart had picked up this control first, or he had yet to get it. It turns out the latter was correct as on the way back, I passed Shane Ruljancich, who was flying on his feet and determined to podium, followed by Bart and Normon Thaibault (all going to control G). I knew at this point that I simply needed to get to the finish in one piece to take the win. I constantly was looking over my shoulder to see if someone was coming after me and about 500m to the finish, started to have tunnel vision as I was about to pass out.

I literally was about to collapse. I don't mean this lightly nor am I trying to be overly dramatic. Mentally and physically, I was at the end. I had never suffered this hard in any other race and my body was about to shut down on me.

I entered the finish shoot and for the first time in a MOMAR, I turned my run into a walk, gave a pathetic little fist pump, and didn't crack even the slightest smile. Gary was at the finish trying to get that great finish photo, but it just did not happen. I walked a bit away from the finish shoot after a zombie finish photo, decidedly crashed on the ground and didn't move for over 10 minutes. Not sure how I came from not racing to racing to winning other than I dug into a place that I didn't know existed. Regardless, I'll take it!

It turns out that Bart made the same mistake with control G as myself which, had he not, would have surely taken him to first. Shane worked his way up to a solid 3rd overall.

Somehow, after everything, I was still able to get hammered and shut down the bar with the rest of the die hard MOMAR after partyers. Was a good night.

Bryan Tasaka put on yet another great event and continually shows why his events are always rated so highly. Gary Robbins' course was definitely MOMAR worthy and I hope to see more people at the start line next year as the terrain around the SFU campus is very nice indeed. Don't be on the fence next year!

Race Fuel:
Carbo Pro 1200 and powder
1 gel with caffeine
1 fruit bar
~40 electrolyte tablets (yes 40!)
Deep suffering