Let me start off with a disclaimer. This post is a bit different than my usual race-recap style. It's a long one, and I'll touch on the actual racing, but Rockyman was really about the people and the adventure. The races were just the glue holding the story together. For a refresher, our team was made up of myself (trail run and BMX), Anne-Marie Madden (marathon), Greg Day (mtb), Keegan Sauder (skateboard), Andrew Logreco (surf), and our team manager/coach Gary Robbins. We were officially Team Canada, but really Team Canada-plus-one (as Andrew is American). Teams are made up of five individuals, competing in six individual events and two team events. So obviously, one team member has to do two disciplines (that was me). Plus, each team is allowed a non-national, Andrew in our case (most of the others had a Brazilian fill that spot). Normally I would save this next bit for the end, but it's so important to me, that i want to say it right off the top. I feel incredibly lucky to have been part of this Rockyman adventure. When Gary invited me, I had no idea the impact that it would make on me. It was a short but intense adventure with five other amazing people. Gary, Anne-Marie, Keegan, Andrew, and Greg are all incredibly talented athletes, but more importantly, they are great people...and funny. Holy crap are they all funny! There were no egos, rivalries, or bullshit...just a lot of fun and team support. I want to keep those five people in my life, and I'm going to make an effort to do just that. Now...on to the fun stuff.
I arrived in Rio on Tuesday, hoping to get see some sights and get a couple extra days of acclimation to the heat/humidity (even though I did some solid heat training at home beforehand to prep). The first thing you notice when you travel from the airport into the core of the city, is the traffic. The roads are a bit like a labyrinth, and there are just way too many cars on them. (Given that Rockyman was going to require a lot of driving between venues, this would play a significant roll in the adventure). After making my way to the Airbnb condo that I had booked, I went for a fun exploratory jog along the beach. I followed that up with some food, then was out like a light.
Anne-Marie showed up the next day, and I was happy to have some company. I've known Anne-Marie for a few years, but on a more superficial level. It was nice to have some time too learn a bit more about her life, and to get her thoughts on how the next few days would likely unfold. She can definitely hold her own on a team full of guys.
The weather was overcast and muggy, but not too hot or sunny, and I managed to bring my legs back to life with a couple good runs along the beaches on Thursday morning. We needed to move into our official race hotel that afternoon, so Anne-Marie and I had to swap out the comfy condo, for the slightly less spacious hotel rooms (a few blocks down the beach). There had also been some confusion at the car rental company. I was listed as the primary driver, and my credit card was needed to pick it up. So, Instead of Greg and Gary being able to grab our rental at the airport (the only location we could get one from) and drive it to the hotel, I had to take a taxi to the airport to meet them. No big deal...I had the time, and I figured it wouldn't hurt for us to do a dry-run on some navigating skills. Turns out that this extra airport trip was a good thing. Not only did it save us having to run to the airport the next day, which is what several teams had to do to get their vehicle, but I realized that the location services on my iPad was working. Even without being on the Brazilian carrier network, i was getting reasonably accurate tracking on Google maps. This would turn out to be much more significant than any of us would have expected.
I had never met Greg before, but I have seen his name at the top of many race results, and we have several mutual friends. While we waited a ridiculously long time for our rental car, Greg and I swapped stories about bike riding around Squamish and North Van. With so much overlap between our lives, It didn't take long to feel like we had known each other for longer than just a few hours. Once we finally got the car keys, we were incredibly lucky to have a Rockyman athlete liaison, Marcelo, to follow right to the hotel. Parking was a different ball game though. We were under the impression that there would be parking for us at the hotel...but it was immediately obvious that was not the case. Something so simple, and seemingly insignificant, had the potential to cause some real headaches over the next 3 days. It took about 30 minutes of circling, but we realized that the best place for us to leave our vehicle was down along the beach. There were lots of spots, and having to walk 3-4 blocks (between the hotel and the beach) also avoided us getting stuck in the gridlock. Both Gary and Greg were pretty shattered from their flights, so besides some dinner, we didn't even try to get much else accomplished on Thursday. Plus, we had tons of spare time the next day...or not
Chapter 1: Prep Day
Our plan for Friday was not a complicated one. Wait for Keegan to arrive at the hotel. Drive to the beach, where Andrew would meet us. Then, get in some outrigger paddling practice before heading over to the pre-race meeting that evening. That simple plan turned out to be a bit more time consuming and confusing than it sounds. Without having mobile reception or internet (outside of the hotel anyway), one really feels lost and in dark when trying to coordinate arrivals and departures. Poor Keegan rolled up to the hotel after a 3.5 hour bus-ride...after probably 24 hours of flying. That would have been enough to crack me, but he just rolled with it. Keegan is definitely the kind of guy that makes you smile as soon as you meet him. We piled into our car, with Gary behind the wheel and me navigating, and team Canada made our first attempt at self-navigating in Rio. We had to make our way over to the 'practice' beach...which wasn't actually too far from the 'race' beach. With only slight bit of confusion we found what we thought was the right place, but no one from Rockyman was there...and neither was Andrew, who was cabbing it directly to the practice beach. It did not at all look like we were in the right spot.
SHIT! Ok, lets make our way over to the other beach, the one that the race would be held at.
As we rolled into that parking lot, there was Andrew standing there with all his gear (bags, surf board, and all our paddles). HUH?? Turns out that his cab diver dropped him at the wrong beach and he had no way to contact us. We just happened to pass by the right spot at the right time and see him...seriously good luck. Much like Keegan, Andrew just rolled with it. He is one of the most chill guys you will ever meet. After some laughs and some team planning, we opted to head back to the first beach. Thankfully, this time we saw a couple other (Brazilian) teams standing around, so we figured it had to be correct. The lack of boats was a bit confusing though. Turns out that things were running behind schedule, and we had just been too damn fast getting there the first time! Thirty minutes of outrigger canoe practice was far from ideal, but it's what we were allotted. Thankfully Andrew knows what he's doing, and he had a basic game plan for us: Gary sets the stroke rate, Andrew steers, and the rest of us just paddle and keep the rhythm. Oh yah, and don't flip the boat...which at the time time seemed obvious. With what we thought was tons of time to get to the pre-race briefing, we headed out into the traffic abyss of Rio. We managed to find the skateboard venue, and parked at a big mall next to it. The idea was to both give Keegan a chance to check out the concrete bowl, and to familiarize ourselves with finding the place and parking. Unfortunately, they were painting the graffiti off the bowl, so Keegan couldn't ride right then. Still, it was a worthwhile diversion to sort out getting to the venue, enroute to the pre-race briefing/meeting.
The meeting was at The Jockey Club, located within a very posh horse racing facility. Unfortunately for us though, the Jockey Club is right across the main road from the park that hosts the Rockyman Grand Finale finish line. We mistakenly assumed that the massive Rockyman branded tenting (and such) was where we needed to be...but again, no one was there. If a person knew the area, and the correct building at the Jockey Club, it would be a 3-5 minute trip from where we were. But for us, it turned into a comical hour-plus. Add that to the previous driving time, cramped seating in the car, hunger, and travel fatigue, and most of us were hanging on by a thread. As soon as the team meeting was finished, we bolted to get some supper, and try and gather supplies for tomorrow morning. By the time we got back to the hotel and packed for the early start the next morning, it was past midnight...already a bit shell-shocked, and it wasn't even a race day.
Chapter 2: Race Day 1
Out of the hotel at 5:45, Gary, Anne-Marie, Greg, Andrew, myself, two bikes, and a surf board, loaded into the car and headed down the highway for venue #1. Keegan stayed back at the hotel in hopes of making his way to the skate bowl later that morning to get in some practice (his event was the following day, and we all agreed that him having some time to get a feel for the bowl was more important than tagging along with us for the entire day). The surfing contest and the women's marathon (start/finish) were at the same spot, Barra. Gary had to quickly sort some last minute details, so Anne-Marie and I wished Andrew good luck and pretty much left him to fend for himself as we went for a warm up jog.
Just seconds before her start, Anne-Marie was told that there will be no team support allowed on the marathon course...carry all your calories. Slight, but significant, change of plan. She threw on her Salomon race vest, filled it with a handful of gels, and bang...off they went. Gary and I then hopped in the car and headed for my race venue. My start/finish was also the turn around point for Anne-Marie, so a good place for him to be at. I had a few minutes to get in some strides, and my legs were feeling quite good. It was't too hot, but I wanted to run a really smart race and pace myself accordingly. The plan was to build through the first hour, then be really strong on the back half. The organizers were expecting a 2.5-3 hour winning time, and I expected to be right there too.
Well...did my plan ever go to shit. I got lost...multiple times. After I had already lost more than half an hour running up and down hills in confusion, I opted to just stop and wait. Not only had I lost the time, but I had burned a lot of energy while trying to find the correct route. I stopped at a course marshal (who only spoke Portuguese) and waited for two runners that I saw coming down the road. I got them to ask the volunteer about where the route went, and all three of us headed back down the hill. We found the correct route, but I have to admit that I was totally heart broken. I had lost our team a ton of time, and I still had around two hours of racing ahead of me. I had to really work at keeping my head in the game. I had to focus on doing the best that I could from that point on...minimize the losses. As a side note, the two guys that I was now running with, also got lost where i had the first time. I'd like to say that i had a smooth back half, but that's not the case. I/we got lost a couple more times, plus, I had only carried about 3:15 worth of calories, and could have used a couple more gels as i ended up being out there for close to 4 hours. The whole team (except Greg, who was at the bike venue) were waiting for me at the finish line, and I just felt horrible. I was physically exhausted, but much worse, emotionally in the dumps. Thankfully, we didn't have time for me to wallow in self pity. We all loaded into the car and headed towards the bike park. It was a long drive, and we were excited to catch as much of Greg's race as possible, and I needed to get my shit together for the BMX race coming up in a few hours.
Once we were moving, it took me a second to process that Keegan was with us. It had been raining in Rio, and the skate bowl was wet, so he hitched a ride out to Barra to cheer and give some support...that was just really cool of him. Anne-Marie had killed it out there in her marathon, finishing just a few minutes behind the winner. Andrew though, had similar luck to me. He got in one good wave, then his leash broke. The surf was big enough that losing his board was a contest killer. He had to go all the way to shore to get it, and that pretty much ruined his ability to catch another wave. One of the most significant moments of the whole weekend though, came as we were driving to the bike venue. We were all talking about the morning events, and no one was freaking out about the time we had lost. Our focus was on the process and on supporting each other. The morning was over, and being there for Greg (and then BMX) was next on the radar.
The long drive was actually kind of fun. You really learn a lot about a person under the pressure of a sporting event, and when sitting in a wet, stinky, cramped car with them for hours. Somehow, we navigated directly to the Rio Olympic bike venue. It is massive, and very much still under construction. I think we were all in shock when we randomly turned down this shit-kicked side road, and ended up right at the entrance to the venue (When navigating by the location services in Google maps, without actually connecting to the cellular network, ones accuracy is pretty hit and miss). We managed to get there with plenty of time to see Greg killing it out there on the mtb course. He rode an incredible race, finishing 5th, only a few minutes down on the winner.
Once he finished, we quickly shuttled the gang over to the BMX track while Greg did a bit of a cool down ride. The track was absolutely beautiful. I would love to spend several days riding and solving that track. Instead though, I missed the entire morning practice session (while running), and had to race the track pretty much cold. I did manage to roll the track a couple times right before the racing started, but nowhere near the time needed to actually learn the speeds needed to have a real race lap. But, I was prepared to adapt and do what I could. The first straight was within my abilities and totally jumpable for me, but without any real practice I could't risk crashing. If i hurt myself, at all, I would be a liability in the two team events happening tomorrow. Essentially, the plan was to keep my wheels on the ground and just pump the track every lap. There were three pro riders in the field, so those spots were totally out of reach. It would come down to me and the New Zealand rider fighting for 4th and 5th, with him getting me in the final. I didn't ride up to my ability, but I stayed safe on the wet track, and really only gave up a minute from the best case scenario (the time difference between 4th and 5th). I felt a lot better about the BMX than I did about my running...kinda redeemed myself a bit.
After the BMX wrapped up, all the teams immediately scattered. We all needed to get back to Rio, to the Grand Finale area for a meeting, and it was a long drive...in traffic too. Greg and Andrew opted to hop the bike bus that was heading there, and the other four of us essentially followed the bus right to the meeting area. We weren't too keen on spending much time there. It had been a 14 hour day already, and we still had a big day coming tomorrow. Again, as soon as the meeting wrapped we hopped in the car and bolted. We knew the route back top the hotel (essentially the same as the night before), but still managed to make really our only navigation error of the race. We missed an exit and had to do an extra 30 minutes worth of out and back on the highway...there just was no way to easily backtrack. At the time, we were all pretty close to unravelling, but in hind sight it was just adding to the adventure.
Chapter 3: Race Day 2
The next morning we got an extra hour of sleep before heading to the skate competition, which everyone was grateful for. We still arrived early enough though that we got a parking spot within meters of the venue. It turned out that the rain cleared up yesterday at the bowl, and almost all the other skaters spent the day at the bowl. Keegan had missed out on that valuable practice, so us getting there on the early side gave him a few extra runs to learn the bowl. With our whole team there, it was an amazing event to watch. There was a lot of talent competing; guys who could boost some big tricks, but only a couple skaters that actually matched Keegan's flow and style. Keegan was getting more comfortable and confident with each run...it was just a shame that he went into the competition without a full day of practice like the rest of the guys had. No complaining from him at all though. He got down to business and was having a lot of fun.
As soon as Keegan wrapped up at the contest, we all piled into the car and headed to the beach for the team outrigger canoe paddle. It was (as expected), a bit chaotic at the beach. Gary was right in there with all the team captains, trying to sort a few 'issues' that had popped up. He held his ground, and we were ready to give'r. The only downside to the team paddle, was that we drew a bit of a stinker of a boat. There were definitely some faster hulls (and more comfortable ones too) in the fleet, but it was just the luck of the draw. We paddled quite well, finishing in the middle of the pack, and didn't really make any mistakes. Andrew was perfect as the steersman, and Gary was driving the pace at the front. Obviously our technique could have used some honing, but we all put 100% effort into it. Plus, we didn't take on any water, and obviously we didn't capsize...unlike three of the other teams (one of which needed to be rescued off the rocks).
With no real time to waste, we headed to the car and changed into our running gear and had some food and water. Last year, we (well, not me) won the team run. All of us were prepared to bury ourselves to take the win again. We had a plan: take the lead before the uphill trail section, and just kill it from the front. (Teams were allowed to use their skateboard on the route, however they saw fit)
And that's exactly what we did. We took the lead on the uphill trail section, we stayed tight as a group (one of the rules of the run), and Andrew and Keegan utilized a perfect skateboard/run swap. I was shocked at how well we executed, and just how damn fast Keegan, Andrew, and Greg could run. I'm confident in saying that all three of those guys could run a 40:00 10km. It was incredibly motivating to see just how hard Greg was pushing himself. That guy is a beast, and was prepared to absolutely kill himself for the win. I did what I could, putting my hand on his lower back for a push as much as possible, and we were flying. When we got to the last kilometre or so, Gary was there waiting for us and ran with us (he wasn't allowed to do the entire run with us, as team captains had to drive to the finish). We knew team Argentina wasn't far behind, and we kicked for the finish. It was a thing of beauty. We closed incredibly strong, and even ended up tacking another 30 seconds or so onto our lead. Working so well as a team, giving it everything we had, and coming away with the win...it really was the perfect way to finish off the racing.
Chapter 4: Celebrating and Saying Goodbye
To say that we were pumped to take the win on the last stage would be an understatement. It really solidified us as a team. Rockyman had a great finish line/awards celebration. Sadly though, they did't recognize the winners of either the team paddle or team run. After the awards, we made it back to the hotel for showers and then dinner with the Norwegian team (over-all Rockyman winners) and the New Zealand team (over-all 2nd place). Marcio, who was on team Canada last year, was the captain of the Norwegian team. He organized an amazing meal for us all at a Brazilian BBQ...just what we needed. Most of the gang went out for a couple drinks after that, but I was exhausted and pulled the plug. The others rolled in a couple hours later (or several hours later...Gary). The next morning we had a bit of time to laugh and to relive the glory before it was time to say our goodbyes and head to the airport. I feel really lucky that Gary asked me to be on the team, and very grateful to the Rockyman organizers for inviting us to the event. If given the opportunity, there is no question that I would go back and race again...it was one of the best racing adventures I've ever had.