If you’re familiar with my work at the Squamish MOMAR you’ll know that while I vowed to always participate in the MOMAR’s from then on, I had a lot to learn about training, strategy and racing in general. It was therefore with great trepidation that I made the trip to the Comox Valley to participate in the 2009 Cumberland MOMAR last weekend. This particular race commands a large amount of respect; I’ve never spoken with a past competitor who hasn’t raved about the killer mountain biking, beautiful kayaking, lung destroying ascents or crazy afterparty. I’d been hoping to experience this course first hand for many years now and finally ran out of excuses not to. I had competed in the Squamish race, had the offer of a partner and my knee was feeling good. This is my story:
My friend Helen and I spent about a month going on bi-weekly training rides and even went for a run before we registered for the race. We had the intention of ramping up the training for the final couple weeks prior to the race. Then, continuing on the tradition of the FUBAR Squamish race, immediately after I officially registered I hurt my knee. Ironically, the very reason I felt as though I could do the race was that I hadn’t re-injured my knee in quite some time. Initially, I wasn’t worried; this had happened before and I recovered quickly. I figured I could lay off the high impact training for a while, get on the road bike to keep up strength and fitness then walk into the Cumby race all rested and ready, fit as a fiddle.
While this plan worked out well in theory, my knee injury coincided perfectly with my birthday which meant lots of beers and lots of cakes. Yes, cakes with an s; I ate several of them over the course of the next week. I didn’t get on the bike once. Despite this total lack of physical activity and knee functionality I continued to plan for the race and made an agreement with my boss to borrow a demo kayak from the store. I booked a room in a beautiful hostel on Comox Lake and examined maps from past races to hone my navigational skills. My still painful knee (and excessive birthday-related caloric intake) was weighing heavily on my mind. I was troubled with the decision I knew lay ahead: do I do the smart thing and cancel in order to save my knee or do I race, not knowing what kind of damage I risked. I booked appointments with my doctor, physio and athletic therapist hoping that they would make the decision easy by making it for me. Unfortunately for me, my knee injury isn’t serious or complete enough to justify special treatment (it’s a compression injury, nothing is torn, simply compressed and therefore painful) but it’s not minor enough to ignore. They left the decision up to me but worded it in such a way that I felt kind of guilty when I decided to race irregardless.
I finally got on my road bike and discovered that riding in the saddle was fine, but for some reason as soon as I left the saddle going up a hill or sprinting my knee began to hurt. Luckily there’s no hills in MOMAR’s hey…
About this time I went into work to discover a ‘SOLD’ sign on my kayak. The one I was to race in later that week…
Kayaks in the mist
As I lifted my leg out of the kayak my mind flashed back to the last adventure race I had competed in with a kayak stage: My leg had fallen asleep during the paddle and as soon as I stood up my leg collapsed and I fell face first into 4 feet of water; I went the entire race sopping wet. As much as it had helped cool me down it simply wasn’t comfortable and I wasn’t prepared to race for an entire day in soggy clothing then or now. I had managed to wrangle a kayak and we had just finished the 10km paddle on Comox Lake in slightly over an hour. The sun was out and everyone had a big smile on their face. We had finished the kayak in the middle of the pack which was pleasing as paddling is not a strong point for Helen or I. The transition to the run was simple and we were soon climbing some steep single track. We had been warned of a funny switchback that would confuse us at the top of the first hill and when we got there we were greeted by about 12 teams standing around looking at their maps. Some had compasses, some were trying to guess positions based on the sun, some were splitting up and others were simply standing there waiting to follow the most confident looking team.
Thinking back to following a team 4km off course in Squamish I decided to get out my own map and compass to figure out exactly where to go. My study sessions had apparently worked as I quickly led us down the correct trail right to the checkpoint. We took off downhill towards the transition zone which was another 6km or so away. My basic knowledge of the local trails helped out near the bottom as we quickly found our way from the Dodge City Down Hill course out to the main trail. At one point I looked back to see a horde of racers coming at us out of the bush, like an angry mob chasing an outlaw out of town. It struck me as a particularly funny moment and even though I could see the time advantage we held I stopped to take a photo.
I had been secretly hoping that my knee would be in great pain and that I could blame any poor results on it. Unfortunately for me, it felt just fine throughout the paddle, the run and the start of the bike stage. I could however feel my quads and lungs beginning to hate me; several weeks with no activity but lots of beer and cake seems to have ruined any conditioning these important areas had. Helen easily beat me to the top of every hill and would stand there looking at me with an expectant expression as I huffed my way up towards her. Much of our biking was done alone with no other teams to be seen. This gave a calming feeling and provided us a chance to enjoy the best XC Cumberland has to offer. The trails are fast, flow well and were obviously built with mountain biking in mind – in short – a pleasure to ride. With no end in sight to this wonderful riding my legs seemed to move faster under me.
While Bucket of Blood is certainly worth the climb up, I think I’d prefer it when I wasn’t trying to get up as fast as possible. My calves were close to cramping as we finally crested the longest hill of the race. The trail down got pretty steep and rather technical in some parts which suited me just fine. Many people were walking their bikes down sections that I had no problem ripping down. We jumped off the bikes for a quick ‘urban’ run through the village of Cumberland. We were told to say hi to the locals so we did our best to talk to everyone we passed. Many people had no clue that the event was on and looked rather startled at the sweaty, muddy people running along their street.
Back on our bikes, we made our way back to Comox Lake Park where the race began and was set to end. Knowing how close we were to the finish line made me feel good; presumably we would finish in time, would be ranked and would have collected all the checkpoints. The orienteering had been the most difficult part of the Squamish race for Steph and I as we had basically tried to stumble our way through, asking questions and taking measurments later. In Cumberland, most of the orienteering course was on rough, uneven groud with a lot of bushwacking. The dull ache in my knee slowly grew as we went for the first two control points. I told Helen I would prefer to walk through as fast as possible and that running was out of the question for me. This was a good move as it gave me time to focus on the wonderfully accurate orienteering map. We would get close to a CP, I’d tell Helen exactly where I expected the flag to be and she would run up to it and mark the passport, giving me a few brief seconds to rest my knee. This system worked awesome and we quickly had all 10 points.
The big inflatable finish line was wonderful to cross under – it had been packed up by the time we finished in Squamish. We had also missed the chili in Squamish so I made sure to eat my fair share. Our official time was just under 7 hours and our categorical ranking was 10/20, right in the middle which is where I had expected to be; we were about dead center overall as well. I’m pleased at how well we navigated and how well my knee held up but am rather dissapointed with my conditioning level. I suppose it’s just more motivation for next year. As I mentioned I was hoping that my knee would be my limiting factor but sadly I’m just a bit out of shape. On the days leading up to the race I had visualized myself sitting in front of my computer with my leg in a cast, wrapped up in a cozy plaid blanket, body covered in cuts and bruises writing a race recap about how I became the first person to break my knee while paddling a kayak or some other whimsical injury.
We drove up to Mt Washington for the afterparty but got there early so we busted out some camp chairs and bevvies I had in my trunk and had an impromptu little tailgate party. By the time we’d eaten the delicious dinner the dreaded one beer syndrome had kicked in and I was ready for bed. We had already decided to leave after the awards to get back to Nanaimo so we quickly said our goodbyes and left to jump in the adventuremobile for the drive back to Nanaimo. Knowing how tired I was on the drive home I don’t regret skipping the infamous party but can imagine how much fun it was!
I can now join the ranks of adventure racers raving about the Cumberland race and will do so at every opportunity. Once again, MOMAR didn’t dissapoint.