Swamp Donkey 2009 Race in Review
by Rick Shone
Congratulations to all racers! It was incredible to see so many people challenging themselves to this years course. The most exciting thing from a race organizer's perspective is to watch racers moving from discipline to discipline with smiles on their faces. Thank you to all the racers who gave me high fives, smiles and "thank-you's" when you passed me along the race course.
Planning a race is a funny thing. We spend hundreds of hours exploring the bush, creating paperwork, finding volunteers and sponsors, promoting the race and testing the different courses options for timings, creativeness and feasibility. Sunday after the race always feels a bit anti-climatic for organizers as we wander the grounds, with only a few stragglers from the party the night before slowly emerging from their tents, tearing down for another year. This was our third year. The course and the level of racers, beginners and experienced, just seems to get better every year. If it weren't for you and the positive attitudes that you bring to the entire race experience, we just simply wouldn't do it!
Slowly but surely, I am getting to know more of our racers on a personal level and that is also a very rewarding part of the planning experience for me. Our pre-race training sessions at Bur Oak and Garbage Hill were great opportunities to get to know some of you better. The race weekend is often just to fast paced and over whelming. An entire year of planning is over before we know it. We will definitely continue those training times, as well as the navigation courses in the future.
For those who don't know me too well yet, I am a very analytical person. I get a kick out of crunching numbers and timings to see where not only we as organizers could improve for next year but you as racers as well. Here are some of my thoughts:
Adventure racing is all about navigation. Making smart decisions and making them quickly. Recognizing the fallibility of topographic maps and trusting your compass. Take a course!
I didn't post the transition splits on the results pages but it is very evident that some may be spending entirely too much time in the transition area. Get out of there! If you have to take breaks, it's better to take them on the course rather than in transition as it is tempting to stick around longer than you have to. A lot of this has to do with your current level of preparedness and organization as well.
Here is something someone mentioned to me once...."Just because we live in Canada doesn't mean that canoeing is our birthright." Please, please, please - if you are a new paddler, consider taking a lesson. Check out WAVpaddling.ca for details. You will be really glad you did. This year's paddle was much longer than any other of our racers - survey forms asked for it, time and time again over the past few years, "make the paddle longer", so we did. But we found some of your limits! Especially when the nature gods threw a headwind at you.
Check out the 2 pics on the side - not sure why teams left the "highway" to bushwhack their canoe to Falcon. Definitely more of an adventure!
There are 3 things that will make you a better paddler:
1. Equipment - I scrutinized some of the pics where racers capsized and found that there were canoes on the course had very low carrying capacities (ie. under 600 lbs). If you have 3 people sitting in your canoe and your free board is less than 1" (the amount of the canoe sticking out of the water when loaded)...this should be cause for your concern! Alternatively, racers may also want to re-consider their center seat configurations and try something different to increase stability. If you need help understanding different boat shapes and other equipment, feel free to visit the guys at Wilderness Supply.
2. Skill - This just comes with experience so again, would like to encourage taking a course. Don't feel bad about taking a canoe course, really, you will be extremely glad you did. Really you just need to spend some more time on the water in different conditions.
3. Mental strength and consistency - When you are faced with a head wind, you just need to put your head down and go. Otherwise, it will take you a lot longer than it should. John and I tested this theory this year as we paddled across Falcon one day. Behind a long peninsula in calm waters we paddled 8.5 km / hr. When we came into the open we battled a headwind but kept paddling with virtually the same effort, cadence and consistency. GPS timings proved to us that our speed was only reduced to 8.0 km / hr.
This is challenging stuff, no doubt. Success in the bush starts with being able to trust your ability and your compass. Then you need to learn how to travel through the bush and follow your compass without stopping every few seconds. Moving lightly (to avoid injury) and quickly (to avoid being left behind) are key to being successful in the bush. John and I love the bush and look forward to getting out anytime it's possible.
You would be surprised how a good bike can improve your entire experience. Riding an old bike? Go see the guys at Woodcock Cycle for more information. Noticed a bunch of you guys riding with your seat posts buried. Try raising them up a bit so you don't burn your quads as fast!
So, to wrap it up - what impressed me most about this years race??
- Our race crew and volunteer team. It was just plain fun! Thanks to all.
- Your smiles and attitude, even when the going got tough! It's always great to see teams helping other teams on the course.
- How many teams made it to the advanced course! When I stood at TA2 between 1:40 and 2:00 pm reminding teams that the advanced course was a "choice" - the most common response was, "It's not a choice!" I saw teams sprinting to the TA even just a few short minutes before the cut-off to make the advanced course. WOW!
Thanks again to all racers, crew, volunteers, sponsors and to Falcon Trails and the town of Falcon Lake for all the support you have offered to the race this year!