Ever since I moved to Vancouver Island I’ve heard about the legendary MOMAR (Mind Over Mountain Adventure Race) race series and dreamed of competing in one. It’s evoked many emotions for me over the years, awe, determination, jealousy, respect, fear and very recently, pain.
You see, last weekend was when I finally ballsed up and competed in the race and boy did I hurt.
I’ve always wanted to do one but for whatever reasons always managed to find an excuse not to. My knee was injured, I was busy, I wasn’t prepared, I didn’t have enough experience, whatever. I ran every Gutbuster trail race for two years straight and competed in several smaller adventure races. Hell, I even volunteered for a MOMAR and stood in the sun for 7 hours way off behind Ukee watching costumed people bike past giggling and having tons of fun.
This past winter I talked to many people who are very well respected in the adventure racing community and all of them said I was being a baby and to simply sign up and go for it. I met Todd Nowack before he moved and within minutes this man – nay, legend – convinced me that I would have the best experience of my life if I did one. That’s why earlier this year when my friend Steph asked if I wanted to do the race I threw down. I said yes before she had even finished asking the question. I had NO idea what I was getting myself into.We went for one training run and one bike ride, both about a week prior to the race. Mistake number one. We had spent more time picking a team name (Ramrod) and deciding how we were going to dress up (matching old skool yellow cycling jerseys with the team name sharpied on them) then training or talking strategy, efficiency, or technique. We’d assumed that we’re pretty active people and that we could walk into this like it ain’t no thang.
I suppose we weren’t woefully underprepared; we did go to Victoria for a MOMAR 101 course presented by Doug Doyle, a very informative course with tons of great information. He made us pay very special attention to his number one rule: never ever EVER blindly follow another team without checking your map. Any guesses as to where I’m going with that?
We show up in Squamish on the Friday evening before the race to check in, scope out the competition and relax before the race. Turns out that the MOMAR attracts the fittest most hardcore athletes in the entire province. I think every single person lined up to register was wearing a shirt from some previous race, MOMAR, Raid the North, Kusam Klimb, 5 Peaks, Gutbuster – everything hardcore I’d ever heard of.
That’s great for the ol’ ego now isn’t it.
Race morning comes and we truck out to Alice Lake where the race begins. I’d been up for a while and was feeling good. The weather was amazing, my knee was feeling good and I’m thinking I’m finally here, doing a MOMAR – this is awesome! We get our map and look it over very briefly – we have plenty of time to look at it when we’re racing right? We don’t need to look at anything now do we? Mistake number two.
The horn goes and we’re off on a 4km run around the lake to spread people out. Steph is a great runner and she had no problem almost leaving me behind in several locations. We got to the transition and it looked like we were near the front – not many bikes had left yet and by the time we were pedalling away were feeling great about overall placement and competitiveness. As the hills started rolling in on us I started to feel worse and worse. My legs felt like concrete and every pedal stroke I took felt harder than the last. My mind shut down and I slowed to an incomprehensibly slow speed. Steph kept looking back to check on me after rider that passed us. I stopped, raised my seat, ate a bar and took a huge drink as I told myself “you’re not even a quarter of the way into this! go go go!!”
My little pep talk seemed to work and I increased cadence a bit and picked up the pace until we arrived at the transition into orienteering, which turned out to go rather uneventfully. We found all of the checkpoints and jumped back on the bikes feeling ok, unaware how much time we were about to spend in the saddle.Time went on and the hills kept coming. My fitness level was beginning to show and riding got harder and harder. I chowed as much food as I dared and nearly emptied my electrolyte bladder.
As we slowed and more riders passed us our goals for the race turned from being competitive in the race to finishing the course in the allotted time and then winning the infamous MOMAR afterparty. We missed the course cutoff at checkpoint 8 and were bypassed to checkpoint 9, which were were told was in three easy sections from there – ride down pseuga-pseuga (really fun bike trail) then when you get to the university turn left, then ride a bit down the road – shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.
At this point we were tired and all we wanted to do was get to that next checkpoint, do the rappell that everyone had been talking about and get some beers in us so we just attached ourselves to a large group of riders in the same position as us. Mistake three AND four. Remember what Doug taught us? Turns out we missed that left turn at the university and rode 6 km downhill off course.
After riding back uphill and saving several other racers from our fate we found the next checkpoint and were on our way to the base of the Chief.
Racers who raced the year before remembered the rappell as a long but easy climb up and then a fun quick ride down. Apparently that was too easy and the course designers decided that they wanted us to rappell off the top of the Chief so without thinking much we hopped off our bikes and started running not fully realizing how high the Chief was (over 600m) nor how long it takes folks to get to the top (about 40 minutes).
I’m pretty sure everyone who made eye contact with me during that section feared for their lives after the death glare I gave them as I struggled up the rocks, nearly puking out my nose. Self addmittedly, the look was undeserved because it was beautiful at the top and I had a nice little self actualization moment there in the sun. While we were near the end of the pack by then, what we had accomplished so far that morning is more than what most people do all weekend. We are capable of amazing things, and as I stood there on top of the Chief, with sweat running down my face, the breeze cooling off my dirty and bloody arms and legs I was increasingly grateful that I was finally participating in a MOMAR – it was exceeding the hype I had built up around for all those years. Things seemed much simpler until it was my turn to rope up and rappell down. I’ve pitched out steep mountains twice as high and been in countless rappell situations before so didn’t think much of this one but can only imagine how someone with less experience would feel.
After this the race seemed short. Down the Chief to the bikes, through the river and into town. We had another navigation error that took us a ways off course and ate up more time but we made it to the finish shortly after. They were already taking down the finishing chute and many of the competitors had already left but the feeling of accomplishment was undeniable and Steph and I walked around for the next 40 minutes with huge grins on our faces.
The afterparty was excellent and true to our word, we closed it out in style as the only two racers left at the end of the night. We drove around for a while with the organizers looking for pizza, which we eventually found before passing out exhausted.
Looking back on the whole experience I wouldn’t have changed anything. I needed a few kicks in my butt to figure out the more important lessons here: train beforehand, never follow anyone else and never ever stop having fun.
Would I do one again?
Absolutely. I’ll never not do one again.