Monday, October 6, 2014

RACE REPORT: RAID Uppsala 2014

RAID Uppsala was one of my favorite events of the 2013 competition season. Combining trail running, paddling and mountain biking with orienteering makes it especially fun, since it challenges not only your physical endurance but also your mental skills in determining the best course to the finish. Alas, for 2014 David had rightfully planned to be away celebrating his wife’s 40th birthday, and after asking around quite a bit at work and with Knivsta CK and Form members, I had all but resigned to passing up this year’s event. Then at Friday breakfast a Facebook post from the organizers peaked my interest and I clicked over to the event’s Facebook page, only to see the following post:

Aha! I contacted Tobbe during the day. “I can’t promise a Top 10 finish but I’m ready to go if you are,” I wrote. We quickly decided that we would compete together and despite the fact that we’d never met, I was aware of his team, Local Heroes Adventure Racing Team (L.H.A.R.T.) as we have been following them on Instagram since this year’s Haglöfs Åre Extreme Challenge.

Tobbe lives in Sundsvall but had been in Stockholm during the week. He had his bike and running shoes with him, but we needed a canoe and he needed a life vest. Fortunately, as a member in Knivsta’s Friluftsfrämjandet, I was able to borrow both on short notice, and by Saturday morning all the gear was loaded into the car and I was headed to Sunnersta.

This year’s RAID Uppsala was divided into the following legs:

Prologue1.4 km
MTBO14.7 km
Orienteering     7.0 km
MTBO6.1 km
Canoe5.5 km
Sprint1.7 km

Of course, these distances are “as a crow flies” and so the actual distances are always longer, as the mountain biking must be done on trails and the running is often fastest on trails, even if the distances can be shorter by using a compass and map to navigate straight lines.

At just after 9 AM, Tobbe and I met at the registration desk and collected our orienteering maps, chip and race numbers. Together, we reviewed the maps and planned a course which would take us through Sunnersta (twice), Nåntuna, Lunsen (3 times) and up and down a section of Fyrisån. It was quickly apparent that Tobbe was a skilled map reader and I casually asked if he’d done this race before. “Yeah, this is like the 10th time,” he replied. We decided shortly thereafter that he would navigate and I would carry the chip and record the checkpoints. :-)

The RAID Herr group started at 10:45 and we were quickly underway running a short, 1.4 km marked route along Fyrisån, up a steep forest path in Ulltuna and then down the paved hill which is a heartbreaker every year during Uppsala’s Blodomloppet. It was fun to run down this hill for once and we were moving fast—under 3 min splits as we made the turn towards the transition area to change into bike shoes, stuff our running shoes into backpacks and grab our helmets.

Now we were proceeding by map and it wasn’t long before different teams started choosing different routes, dispersing the field among the forests around Sunnersta’s ski hill. Tobbe is a strong cyclist and he could really move on his Crescent bike, but I managed my best to keep up and we stayed together as the competition rules require. Crossing Flottsunds bridge, we proceeded into the evergreen forests of Nåntuna, following at times trails that are perhaps more accurately described as infrequently used footpaths. Then we proceeded past the cycling/running transition point, up a gravel road and into Lunsen, a large nature reserve south of Uppsala. Here we cycled on a mix of logging roads and small paths, recording the checkpoints as we went and doing our best not to collide with teams coming in the other direction on some of the smaller paths. By now, my legs were really burning as we had been keeping a high tempo the entire race. We were at one hour and thirty minutes when we reached the transition point to change into running shoes and my heart rate had been averaging well over 170 bpm. My right calf started to cramp as I pulled off my cycling shoe, but I managed to get on my Roclites and we pushed on—my theory being that running would help work out the cramp…

Actually that theory proved to be somewhat accurate and we ran the forest part at a good tempo. We noted at the first checkpoint in Lunsen that we needed to record this twice (once out and once on the way back), and then we started on a long stretch where Tobbe led us by compass and we were climbing over logs, stones and marching through marshy sections of the forest. His navigation skills are excellent and after having run a long stretch without much of a landmark we came out on a wide trail which we turned left on before veering right onto a little footpath. (Actually we missed the footpath at first, but we hadn't come more than 100 m too far before Tobbe realized that we needed to turn back.)  There were not many teams in sight during this part of the course and we started to feel pretty good about our location in the pack. The run back from the farthest checkpoint included a number of more closely spaced targets, and here the pack started to converge a bit, with two teams from Uppsala Triathlon running somewhat parallel to us. (They were easy to spot in the yellow shirts.) We ran as a small group from that first checkpoint that we noted early in the run, back to the transition area and climbed back onto the bikes.

Now the course proceeded back and forth across Sunnerstabacken (what some people call “Sunnersta’s pit”) and we were accelerating, braking, changing direction, climbing and descending over the entire mountain bike course. Tobbe’s legs were in a lot better condition than my own and at some point we got separated on one of the uphill ascents where he just pushed through on the saddle but I was forced to get off and walk. Fortunately, we managed to rejoin after just a short period of separation and at that point the worst part of the course was behind us. Just a few more descents and flat gravel paths before we arrived back at the start, where my legs seized completely just short of the transition area. I managed to stretch a bit and get my shoes changed, but standing up straight was hard. Tobbe was a very understanding teammate and even offered to help me tie my shoes, but I managed myself and we jogged slowly to the canoe to collect our life vests and paddles.

Image courtesy of Erik Melin
Once we were in the water, cramping legs became less of a worry as canoeing is a bit easier on the legs than sitting in a kayak as one does in HÅEC. We paddled upstream with two teams ahead of us and one or two behind, but again there was not much competition in sight—most notably one of those teams from Uppsala Triathlon. Their lead guy in the canoe was cramping a lot worse than I was—at times he’d let out a scream of agony and stop paddling while he tried to stretch out his leg muscles. 5.5 km in a canoe sounds far but actually it wasn’t long before we could see the turn into a narrow creak which led us to the first water checkpoint. We got tangled up with a few of the other teams at this point as turning a canoe in a narrow channel with boats moving in both directions is not that easy, but soon we were headed back down the creak before turning upstream again towards a bridge where the final water checkpoint was located. Then it was just a quick downstream straight course back to the dock where we lifted our boat onto land just behind that Uppsala Triathlon team, who had managed to complete the water course a bit faster than we did despite the cramping legs of the foreman.

The final leg of the course was a sprint—1.7 km—and the teams received the map after the transition. We were doing well but I had really pushed to maintain the pace we’d kept and my legs were feeling it. We had to climb a hill on the SLU campus and there was nothing left for me to keep up. I yelled to Tobbe that my legs were shot and he turned around to come back and literally push me up the hill! That Uppsala Triathlon team was right with us and we were literally meters from each other as we scrambled around the final section before proceeding towards the finish, but they managed to cross before we (or more accurately I) did and we landed in 11th place with a final time of 4:01:44, just two seconds behind them.

OK. Not a Top 10 finish but still a really satisfying day of competing. 11th place is nothing to complain about in a field of 42, especially with a team that had just met less than 24 hours earlier via social media. It was really fun to get to know Tobbe during the day as we compared notes about being in a multisport team, sponsorships, training and more. I don’t doubt that Team Form will run into L.H.A.R.T. again in the future, either as competitors or as teammates!

Fusion Team Form / L.H.A.R.T.

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