Second for the second time in a row ARWC2014- Ecuador
Runner up of 2014 World Championship -Ecuador
by Barbara Bomfim
After the prize giving ceremony of the World Championship 2013 in Costa Rica our team received some beautiful bracelets from the organizer of the world championship to be held in Ecuador in the following year. We had placed second, being the first time among the top 3 in the world, and then decided to put on the bracelets as a commitment from the whole team to the next edition of the most important adventure race in the world. The world championship is the event where the best teams meet and challenge themselves through some of the toughest terrains any human could possibly imagine to pass during a competition. It is definitely the race of the year! So that`s the deal, we will train hard during a year to be even more competitive in 2014!
A year passed by and here we are together again for another world championship. We managed to get a free entry by winning Untamed New England, in Maine – USA, which gave us a bit more confidence for this edition in Ecuador. The big challenge this year would be the altitude. None of us live above 500 m a.s.l… so one can imagine how difficult it would be to do some good acclimatization for the high mountain sections of the race. We booked our flights in advance and could only travel to Ecuador 8 days before the race start, which should actually not be enough for some good acclimation. But we all have our commitments and spending one month prior to the race in Ecuador was not a viable option. In order to try to overcome this short acclimatization in Ecuador, me, Urtzi and Marco got together in the Yosemite area, California, for a week of hard core training in altitudes from 2500 m to 3800 m. I believe it was very helpful and we had an awesome time enjoying the best trails of Sierra Nevada. Jon Ander also did some intermittent hypoxia exposure with masks in Mallorca, where he lives.
When we got together in Quito we had already a very good idea of what we would go through, as the organizer released the altitude profile and distances of each leg in advance. It helped us to shape our last trainings and acclimation to the race. We were very careful in the previous week to the race, just going to high altitude for some light trekking, knowing that any hard core training during these days would have sacrificed a year of effort in training and preparation. We observed that many teams were training a lot in the altitude, but we believed we could not do the same considering our circumstances. In Quito, we stayed in a very nice house we rented from the Ecuadorian racer Maria, where we could organize our gear and rest with the best comfort we could ask for. Before going to the official hotel of the race we finished our race kits, food and were all packed and good to go. We passed by all gear check, opening ceremony and all other stages prior to race start very calmly. Some racers were betting on us and we, as usual, just thought it would be very very hard to place top 5 considering the high level of preparation of at least 6 or 7 other teams.
The Race – 700 km from the Andes to the Coast through Amazonia.
On the previous night we worked a bit on the maps, reading the race book, and got our stuff together to get in the bus early in the morning to the race start. It was the first time I slept really well before an important race, which maybe was a good sign! The race started in a 30 km trekking at almost 4000 m a.s.l., going up to almost 4500 m, which was the biggest challenge for our team. I did not feel well when running during this first stage and Jon Ander had twisted his ankle three days before the start, so we were actually slow during this section, just trying to do a good hike to get out of this altitude as fast as possible. Luckily, we arrived at the transition in the 7th position together with other three teams. We transitioned very fast and rushed downhill with our bikes. We were very disappointed to have such long downhill in the asphalt!!! We carefully chose to race with our Giant Anthem 27.5 full suspension considering all rocky downhill sections we could encounter, so this asphalt was just not what we were expecting… but anyways, I was very happy to be able to breathe better as we went downhill. It is amazing the effect of hypoxia in our bodies, especially in a competition. We did a good navigation in this 67 km bike section and ended the section taking time away from teams ahead of us. Our transition was fast
once more, grabbing some food to eat on our way out to a long trekking section going uphill. We changed positions with team Tecnu, Adidas Terrex and Raidlight during this trekking in the jungle. It was a fun section as we had to keep our eyes open not to lose the good trail we had to follow up to the top of the hill, where the transition area to another bike section was located. Urtzi did a good job, as usual, and we managed to leave the other teams behind at the end of this section.
When we arrived at the TA 3, where we would grab our bikes to go up to almost 4000 m again, we saw that only two other teams had arrived, realizing that something was wrong… 10 min after we had arrived teams Seagate and Silva arrive, which was difficult to understand as they were ahead of us. Since we only stopped for 1 hour there, we just transitioned as fast as possible, ate a bit of hot soup (Chris Forne stole my soup!!!) and took a power nap. We left this TA almost 40 minutes behind Team France and Team Ecuador was almost ready to leave after us. The way up the hill after the TA was very painful, as we had too many clothes and got really hot. Then we started to sweat, froze and had to put more clothes on. It started to rain and we literally froze our butts on the way down. We were all miserable and couldn’t wait to get downhill as fast as possible. At the same time we were very glad to have our full suspension bikes, which made this rocky road very comfortable! When we got down to certain altitude at which we had to sort of remain for a while we started to get really slow. We stopped for everything and started to lose a lot of time. We were surprised that team Ecuador had not caught us yet, but they would be surely coming. And we actually saw them when we were close to a virtual CP, which helped us to speed up a little. But then I had a flat tire… and we lost another possible 10 minutes on it, and my tire was everything but rolling straight, so I complained for another 6 hours until the next transition area. Just before finishing this painful bike section we saw teams Tecnu and Ecuador, which were maybe less than 20 minutes behind us. So we pushed as much as possible and ended up doing a good job, as they arrived almost one hour after us at the TA 4.
This TA was a sad one, as it was where we received the news we had to stop for 4 hours as a penalty for not following the tricky instructions in the race book during section 3 of the race. We were very disappointed, but also surprised as all teams except for Seagate and another one were receiving the same penalty. I have never seen this in my life as an adventure racer: all teams receiving a penalty means that everyone failed to follow something that was maybe not very clear???!!! Very weird and disappointing, but we decided not to spend more than 5 minutes thinking about this. We decided to pay only one hour at this TA and go as fast as we could to try to make it through the dark zone. We knew it would be very hard, but we had to try! We did a good trekking section and no team caught us. It was a very cold night up the hill, but we had lots of fun going downhill in a tunnel trail! We arrived at the TA feeling very well and stopped for the 4 hour penalty. It was our chance to recover a little before the 160 km mtb section that would be decisive to make it or not through the dark zone. During our rest in this TA we saw team France trying to leave the TA without paying the 4-hour penalty, which was a very bad idea, so we tried to convince them not to leave. Nobody fully agreed with such penalty, but it was done and we had to deal with it. We then left this TA some hours after Seagate, in the second position. We tried to keep a good pace to, once again, make it through the damn dark zone which would divide the race. We unfortunately made some small navigation mistakes and had mechanical problems, which cost us almost 2 hours in total… We kept moving and with lots of hope, we really wanted to arrive at the TA to the river section as soon as possible… And we made it!! Near 7 am we were approaching the transition area, very tired but happy with the possibilities of making through the river. We decided to stop for 1 hour to eat and to do a good transition. We decided not to take extra provisions, as we really wanted to get out of the river before the cut off time. We ran and walked as fast as we could to the start of the river section and then swam our way down the river!!! But had lots of fun. It was a beautiful section, and very good to give some rest to the legs as well. Around 4:30pm we approached the end of the river, yeahh!!! We had made it and knew that maybe only one or two other teams would also make it. It would then divide the race and we could be placed top 3, if all went well until the end of the race, of course…
We carried the boats to the transition, put our bikes together, and left for an estimated 4 hour bike section up to the sky! It was a very long uphill, which felt like much longer as we were dying for some hot food and good sleep. We were wearing the same bike shorts we wore in the 160 km mtb section and in the river, so every minute on the bike was very painful at that moment. We still had a 5-hour mandatory stop at the TA, which suited us perfectly to face the muddy trekking through the Amazon. We found some good hot food, cleaned ourselves, and slept like babies until all mandatory stop hours were used up. We then left to the supposedly 16-hour trekking feeling brand new. GPS was all ready to go, even though what we really wanted was to have more chances in navigation to try to make up some time and hopefully change our position in the race. We were second, more than 2 hours behind Seagate, and had team France very close in the third position. We were the only teams to make through the river dark zone. All others chasing top positions were either sleeping by the river or at the previous TA.
We made our way through the mud in the best possible way. Of course it was a nightmare for everybody, but we actually did not have the worst experience one could have. We even ate some cacao during the course, which was delicious by the way! We were amazed, especially Urtzi, to see how people live in such remote areas. Those families we passed by needed many hours of mud trekking to get access to anything they would need besides water, cacao and basic food they have in their homes in the forest. We were glad to hear the Mono Carvoeiro, a very loud monkey typically found in tropical forests. The thousand sounds from the forest made our experience more positive as well. The Amazon is really only for a hand full of people. After almost 14h, I believe, we arrived at the last TA, trashed, full of mud, but happy to be out of the forest. First thing was to look for hot food, and once more we found the best chicken with rice and hot soup, which filled ourselves with enough energy to get into the boats and paddle to the finish line. The last kayak section could have been easy depending on the time of the day. We started around 3 or 4 pm, so we had the tide against us for a good part of the section. We tried to keep ourselves awake and motivated to make this last effort. We still thought the French team was right behind us, so we could not let it go, we had to keep pushing. We made it just fine to the first CP of the section, but from then on it was sooooo long. I was very sleepy, could not manage to paddle without falling apart. I really need to sleep!!! But there was no other option but to keep moving forward. We later found ourselves in a canal without water, as it was low tide, which was horrible for the extra effort necessary to push the kayaks, but it was so good to get out of the kayak and be able to walk a little and get a chance to wake up! The last CP was tricky as we were there but someone had removed it. So we took a picture of the place and kept moving. We arrived by the shore and seemed like a miracle. We had made it still in the second position, even after moving like a zombie for the last couple of hours. Seagate had already crossed the finish line a while ago and then it was our time to finish the journey. We finished as runner-up in the World Championship for the second time in a row. Every year this final race seems to be more and more brutal. The organizers are proud to hold the event and want to make sure all athletes get there dose of pain. It took us some much energy to go through all those km in Ecuador… but everything was worthy! We crossed the finish line happy and healthy!
We would not have made it without many people. First, we would like to thank our sponsors: Columbia Sportswear, Giant Bicycles, SKINS USA, Nutrisport, Darn Tough Vermont, Spiuk, Nordenmark Adventure, Light & Motion, Epic Kayaks, Quickspeed, Camelbak, Rollerblade, Seland, Breakaway Training and No Tubes. Also special thanks to our photographer Juliana Povoacao, who followed us during the race, taking and posting great pictures so that our family and friends could see us during the race. And special thanks to all other racers who take the time and courage to dive into this adventure with us. We suffer a lot, but we love it!