It finally arrived — race day. It was a very long day. I woke up at 4:30 am and went to sleep at 1:30 am. At times the day was fun, exhilarating, difficult, frustrating, disappointing and exhausting. The pursuit of a common goal produced an amazing camaraderie, especially at the end of the race. And that goal was to have fun completing the 160 km canoe, hike/run, mountain bike race from Gore’s Landing on Rice Lake to Seneca College, King Campus, in King City, covering over half of the Oak Ridges Moraine Trail north of Toronto. The entire trail starts in the west with a link to the Bruce Trail, north of Mono Mills, through to the Northumberland Forest in the east, before splitting into two gateways at Castleton and Warkworth. No one on our team had ever been involved in anything like this. Although having fun was our goal, it is amazing, how ones competitive tendencies quickly take over. Competing in the recreational category, I started the race for our team in an 8 km canoe stage. My canoeing partner was someone I had met an hour earlier who filled in for an ailing team-mate. Six or seven strokes into our heat we were in the middle of a four canoe log jam. Had it not been for that we may have actually won our heat. 100 m from the finish line we were the first of three canoes vying for 4th place. The third canoe kicked too early and faded quickly. The other canoe then kicked and it was us and them to the finish line. Our competitive energy pushed us to beat them by a couple of lengths. Time is kept to the minute and not seconds so all canoes tied in that heat. After the final heat we were in 8th place. Paddling across the finish line, we saw two of the canoeists from the elite category, from the heat ahead of us splashing in the water. I thought they had won their heat and tipped over in celebration. I later found out that they had pushed themselves hard at the end and capsized. They had swum across the finish line dragging their canoe with them. Had it not been for a few set backs that day, I believe we would have finished in a respectable position. Our troubles began with the canoe jam which was minor, but our luck worsened as the race progressed.
- Stage 3: Our hiker/runner got lost in the woods. The organizers sent out a search party to bring her in
- Stage 10: Someone, not affiliated with the race, turned a sign to point in the opposite direction. After not seeing any more signs, our hiker/runner checked his map and realized that he was running the wrong way. This only affected our team since we were running in last place during this stage
- Stage 11: Our mountain biker overshot his checkpoint and ended up at he following checkpoint. We had to wait for him to get to his checkpoint
In total we probably lost two to three hours. Again, due to our ailing team-mate, we were short-handed. I could not fill the last stage and I understood why. Who wants to run through the woods at night? I decided to run the last stage myself even though the last time I ran was in college. Preoccupied with logistics and shuttling people back to their starting points, I arrived at the start of my stage ten minutes prior to my team-mate competing his stage. I quickly registered and geared up, forgetting to warm-up or stretch. Fortunately, a few of my teammates who had completed stages 12 (hike/run) and stage 13 (mountain bike) accompanied me, for which I am forever grateful. All three of them being in better shape than me, it was my job to keep up with them. It was easier than anticipated running through the forest at night. There were signs staked in the ground with battery operated flashing red lights that made it easy to see them down the trail. That was great for our lead runner, all I had to do was follow the side glow of my teammates’ head lamps up ahead. There were a few incidents that would prompt me to pick up my pace, such as, when our lead would turn to see how far back I was. I would see her full headlamp and that was my cue to turn it up a notch. Another was when the trail curved and I would lose sight of the others’ lamps through the thick forest. That is when I would recall pretty much any horror movie or National Geographic program, where the straggler always gets preyed upon. Without the help of my team mates I would have been in real trouble; probably lost and most certainly another hour would be added to our time.
This type of race is a lonely race. Although, in both my stages I had company, I can imagine being out there on your own, especially since early in the race we were fighting another team for second last place. By the time we made it to most checkpoints even the volunteers who helped run the event, would be packing up.
Our goal prior to the race was to have fun. After our first set back, fairly early in the race, our goals became:
- Don’t finish in last place
- Finish that day
We accomplished our goals:
- We finished second last. The team we alternated last place with throughout the day did not compete in the last two stages
- We finished at 11:58 pm that same day
- We had tons of fun doing it
Our team is already talking about next year and how can we shave some time off to push up in the rankings. We are also thinking of renaming the team to, “Where’s the Checkpoint”?