Monday, October 21, 2013

RAID Uppsala 2013 - race report

RAID Uppsala

Race location:    Storvreta, Sweden
Date: October 20, 2013
Class: RAID Plus

Race composition
Prologue1.7 km
Orienteering Stage 11.7 km
Paddling12.5 km
Orienteering Stage 21.8 km
MTB Stage 115 km
Orienteering Stage 38.8 km
MTB Stage 27.0 km
Orienteering Stage 48.5 km

6:15 AM, Knivsta
David pulls into my driveway with the kayaks and his bike on the car. The temperature outside is -5C and the kayaks are completely covered in frost. We had anticipated this the day before when we strapped them to the roof rack, and in order to avoid frost on our backsides we had actually mounted the boats upside down, but (as we discovered later) it turns out that frost finds its way into all kinds of places that you don't expect.

6:45 AM, Storvreta -- the beach on Fyrisån
We unload the kayaks and place them on the shore. The insides are also covered in frost, despite having been upside down. David notices a bit of ice on the edge of the water and sticks his hand in to feel it. "Don't want to fall in that!" We decide to leave a full change of clothes in the storage chamber of the kayak, just in case we take a swim. Life vests, spray decks and paddles get left in the boats as well, plus a bottle each of sports drink.

7:00 AM
We check in, get the maps and take a quick look through them. It's overwhelming at first--this early in the morning trying to concentrate on a highly detailed set of maps with 41 different checkpoints. We spend 20 minutes familiarizing ourselves and then decide to go finish prepping our gear.

7:30 AM
Bikes are in place in the start arena and we have our boxes of gear including gels, sports drink, clothes, etc. in place. We leave our hydration packs here and we stage our cycling shoes, clean socks and helmets with the bikes. One thing we agreed on from Åre is that we spent too much time with the changes. This time, we are determined to make the transitions as quick as possible.

8:00 AM
Back to the maps. Now we are drinking some warm coffee that I'd brought along and David is marking the maps with a highlighter. He is an awesome map reader and quickly plans out a route through the entire competition. We have a few discussions about strategy (stick to roads which are easy to follow or take a chance on forest trails which are more direct but potentially hard to find) but in the end we work through the course planning very efficiently.

8:35 AM
WHERE ARE OUR MAPS, PARTICIPANT NUMBERS, AND ORIENTEERING CHIP? This is the discussion I come back to after returning from a trip to the restroom. It turns out that another team packed up not only their stuff, but ours as well. Panic starts to set in. What are we going to do? The organizers from OK Linné go to make an announcement over the loudspeaker, but it quickly becomes apparent that no one is  coming back with our stuff. Thankfully, the organizers have extra material, so team 313 becomes team 322, we redraw the missing map, and we are on our way.

9:00 AM
START! It feels like a last minute start as most teams gather at the start line just seconds before they blow the start horn, but now we are on our way for the prologue, a short run up and down the ski slope in Storvreta. We had originally planned to not run too fast here, but we end up hanging with the pack and covering the nearly 2 km sprint in just over 8 minutes--at this point it feels so good to get moving and start generating some warmth in the muscles.

9:08 AM
We're back at the change point and David's calling out directions from the map. Even in this first little stretch we start to see the importance of good navigation as David sends us through a small neighborhood of houses which others went around and we gain a few places We record a checkpoint on the way to the beach, then make our way down to the launch point.

9:17 AM
By now, everything is covered in frost, including our life vests, spray decks and paddles. We gear up, carry the kayaks down to the water's edge, and push off. 50 meters from shore I look at my glove and realize that the orienteering chip is gone! I yell to David and panic sets in as I pull up next to him so he can look underneath me to see if it's there, but he can't find it, so I turn around and head back to shore. I know I heard the chip hit the seat of my boat when I threw my gloves in during the transition, so it must be here somewhere on the beach. A few people come down and start to help in the search, and after several minutes of frantic searching a spectator pulls the chip out of the water! It must have fallen off my gloved hand when I was trying to pull on the spray deck! What a relief that he found it. Unbelievable! "I think we've given the other teams a big enough head start!" David says to me. Ha ha. Lesson learned.

Now the next problem, I've got a muscle in the left shoulder which is killing me. Lifting the paddle out of the water is causing cramps so I have to rest after every 10 strokes. This is not good. We're not even 1 km into a 14 km paddle and I'm already feeling low. But we adjust the pace and carry on, David letting me draft him along the way. We manage the first check point at 9:36 AM, nearly 20 minutes after we left the beach and at least 10 minutes behind schedule. Then we turn upstream and start the long paddle up to a checkpoint north of the beach, and another at the bridge where we turn and head back. The pain in my arm becomes bearable somewhere along the way, and I've managed to eat a pack of gels which seems to have helped a bit.

11:18 AM
Back at the beach and we pull ourselves out of the kayaks. Everything hurts now and the cold is terrible. We strip off life vests and spray decks. My fingers will barely open as they have cramped around the paddle. But then we start to run and it feels so good to be out of the confines of the kayak and finally moving again with my entire body. David navigates us to a checkpoint in town and back to the start line, where we grab the hydration packs, change shoes, and start off on the first cycling leg. David's entire family is there to cheer us on and it feels great to hear their encouraging cheers.

11:28 AM
The mountain bike course actually is located on the other side of the E4 highway so the first stretch is 8 km along paved and gravel roads as we make our way over to the forest section. Now the sun is shining fully, but it is still cold and the windchill from the bikes makes it feel even colder. We find the entrance to the MTB course at 11:47 AM and make our way over forest trails, through two gravel pits and in between several plots of farmland (which are marked as off limits on the maps). This section of biking is quite good and we are both feeling well. We are eating gels and drinking plenty to keep the energy up. We make a small mistake by registering check point 58 four steps too early, but we go back and check it again in the correct order. We start to worry that this could be grounds for disqualification, but when we arrive at the change station where the first long run starts, the functionary there confirms for us that an extra check is okay, as long as you go back and do it right (which we did!)

13:13 PM
Quick shoe change and we are off again, this time on foot and crossing the same forest and gravel pits that we just did on the bikes, but this time locating different checkpoints along the way. "You don't need your helmet" David reminds me just before we leave. Oh yeah. It's hard to remember those things that you can't see yourself. Now we are starting to tire and our legs are cramping. We are still running most of the trails, but we are stopping frequently for breaks or to discuss the map. At one point, we overrun a checkpoint and we have to run back 500 meters to find it. We spend what feels like an eternity looking for a checkpoint that is hidden close to the golf course, eventually finding it in a thicket of brambles. In the final gravel pit, there is a checkpoint at the very top of a long and steep gravel embankment. Climbing feels impossible, but we make it and then walk/run across the face of the pit wall in order to avoid having to climb down and then back up to the next checkpoint which lies 90 degrees around the pit but at a similar elevation.

Somewhere along this leg we cross paths several time with a team that we cheer on in Swedish. "Heja Heja" we say and they just glare back at us and continue on their way. Their terrible sportsmanship gets my competitive juices flowing and as we approach one of the final checkpoints, we see them coming back on a trail that they've taken a wrong turn on. We manage to overtake them and then trade places a few times on the final run down the asphalt road that leads back to the bikes. Mmmmm. Now I really want to finish before these guys.

15:07 PM
Back on the bikes. We note that there are a few teams that haven't made it back yet as we change shoes, eat and climb back onto the saddles. On David's excellent advice, we decide to take a different route back which looks shorter than the one we rode here. This is a deviation from plan, but we decide it is worth the risk and we take off down the paved route back to the start arena where we will begin the final section of running.

It is so cold on the bikes. The sun is low in the sky and not really warming anything now. My finger tips are numb, but we manage to maintain a good pace and cover the stretch back in 20 minutes. We take turns drafting each other which is a huge help. If you've never drafted someone on a bike, you can't imagine the advantage you get when you ride just centimeters off the rear tire of the leader. Plus, drafting breaks the wind which keeps you warmer, and any thermal advantage is welcome at this point.

15:27 PM
We check in at the start arena, change shoes a final time and head off to find the final 12 checkpoints. Our goal is to cross the finish before 17:00 PM. Can we do it? We think so, but it is so hard to know because the distances on the map are straight distances from check point to check point, and we can't tell actually how many kilometers we have left. At this point, we have covered over 65 km--more than we did in Åre.

Just as we head out, we hear "Pappa, Pappa!" from the left and now my family is there cheering us on. They run along with a us a bit as we inform them that there's probably an hour to go before we cross the finish.

David is shivering hard and he turns to me and says "Keep an eye on me now. I'm having a hard time focusing." I can see in his face that he's low, and it am feeling low too. We gobbled gels at the start arena to try and get our energy levels up again, but now the blood is in our stomachs and not where we need it in our legs and brains. We take it easy with a combination of jogging and walking, counting the checkpoints as we find them, and announcing how close we are to the goal. "A third of the way there!" "Five twelfhs of the way there!" We also are setting mini goals now: "Let's run to the intersection," or "Let's run to the second lamp post." Everything is about mental stamina now, and we're watching the clock as well. Can we make it by 17:00? It's going to be close. We locate a check point at the top of the ski hill after several minutes of searching and then head back into the forest. It is getting dark under the forest canopy and trails are getting harder to see. Plus we are running on trails that are in some cases just 10 cm wide. At the 10th checkpoint, we take a wrong turn and it starts to look like we are lost, but we take a shot based on gut feel and find #35 hanging from a birch tree. Oh luck was definitely on our side there!

However as we search for the second to last target we realize that 17:00 is going to pass. It's ok. We will be close anyway. We find the checkpoint up a small path and then jog back towards the final check in at the start arena, and cross the goal line together, with both families cheering us on.

17:04:33 PM
This is our official finish time. We are overjoyed to be done, crying even and hugging each other and our families. The officials collect our orienteering chip and hand us a print out for an "Approved" result. 16th place is ours.

Sometime around 17:30
As we are collecting our gear, we stop to cheer on a team that is finishing and they smile and thank us as they run down the lane towards the finish. Shortly thereafter comes another's the guys who didn't even acknowledge us when we met them with encouraging words earlier in the day. Gentlemen that we are, we pause to cheer them across the finish line as well. Secretly, we enjoy the confirmation that karma is everywhere. :-)

End of the 2013 season for Team form!

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