GAC: A pain worth fighting through
By Wayne E. Rivet
One might think that training and competing in an Ironman event would totally prepare Kelly Edwards of Raymond for the Great Adventure Challenge.
And, it didn’t.
While the 51-year-old was able to successfully defend her women’s title this past Saturday at the Ninth Annual GAC held at Shawnee Peak, she had a few doubts if there was enough fuel in the tank to get her through the grueling kayak, bike and hike.
“I approached this race a little differently than the last couple of years. Revisiting my e-mail from last year, I reported that based on my success in GAC that I had registered for Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP). Training for Lake Placid started in February 2016, the race was on July 24. Six months of swimming, biking and running led up to my big day in Lake Placid where 14 hours, 25 minutes and 43 seconds after the start, Mike Reilly said those magic words, ‘Kelly Edwards, You Are An Ironman!’ Happy girl,” she said. “For the four weeks prior to GAC, I have been recovering from IMLP and taking it pretty easy. By race day, I wasn’t sure what I had available. Ironman training is all about long endurance training, stuff that keeps you going all day. GAC is fast and intense and you’d better be on your toes! My first kayak paddle of the year was the day before the race. My only hope was that swimming muscles would translate to paddling muscles.”
Kelly was 22 out of the 61 kayakers, who paddled across a 2.5-mile course on Moose Pond.
“This year, the kayak portion was the toughest for me. I hadn’t been training for paddling, and I was trying hard to catch Brian (her husband, who won the overall title). Feel the burn baby!” Kelly said.
A four-time competitor in the local triathlon, Kelly was a spectator at the couple’s first GAC event. Since then, she has competed, and keeps trying to catch Brian.
“I love the course and I love the challenge, but it’s the people that make it magical. There is something about the people that this race draws in. Nicest, friendliest competitors, volunteers and, of course, our beloved Rob (Knowles, race director)! He puts his heart and soul into this race. Good to the core,” she said.
Kelly’s goal coming in was to defend her title.
“Having been the first woman overall for the last two years made that an obvious goal. The fact that my training had been focused on long endurance events made me wonder if this was going to be my year,” she said. “I went into it with the attitude that being able to participate was an honor and if I raced ok it would be a bonus.”
Kelly was 18th in the bike portion, and 10th in the hike to finish the event in 2 hours, 31 minutes, 38 seconds — good for 17th overall.
“Even though I was working really hard during the kayak, I was feeling like my day was going well when I pulled in the shoreline at the same time as Brian, as well as being the first woman out of the water. After that, it was my goal to hold my ground. I had a ton of fun on the bike course, playing games of cat and mouse with other competitors. I always enjoy that part. The run/trek portion wasn’t as bad as in years past. Not as hot and grueling. It was my goal to keep it steady going up and open up the throttle on the way down. This strategy worked really well,” she added.
Kelly’s favorite moment was the last 200 yards before the finish line.
“I had just passed one runner approaching the finish line and was giving it all I had. I heard feet pounding behind me and cranked it up for the final sprint. Three of us, in a showdown, sprinting for the finish. One of them got past me and I held my ground for the other. Fun finish! Fist bumps, high fives and grins all the way around. It just so much fun!” Kelly said. “Yes, I accomplished my goal, I defended my title of first overall woman and set a new course record with a time of 2:31:38.”
With success comes a price — pain.
“The part I like least comes after the race, two days after the race. I’d like to be able to walk down stairs without holding on, or sit in a chair without lowering myself with my hands. Maybe by Day 4 post race. There is a reason it’s called a challenge!” she said. “To quote Brian, who was the first overall finisher, ‘Two days later, I can’t walk down stairs, but the King (Queen) for a day feeling is worth it.’”
What triathletes thought
While overall numbers were slightly off last year’s pace, Race Director Rob Knowles felt the ninth running of the GAC — which benefits the Morrison Center, a company that works with individuals with disabilities — went well.
Triathletes were either relieved or disappointed when Knowles announced during the pre-race instructional meeting that due to the drought, the rugged bike course lacked mud holes. Yet, the challenging course did claim three bikes as the result of blown tires.
Competitor Dennis Strout had a rough start when he developed trouble with the rudder of his rented kayak. After some assistance from race officials, Strout shifted into high gear and managed to rejoin the pack and displace several kayakers.
Although temps reached into the 80s, there was a slight breeze, which was refreshing for some as they hiked up to the summit of Pleasant Mountain. The 1,300-foot elevation did take its toll on some racers, who battled through some severe leg cramps. Determined, most refused to let cramping end their journey and worked through the pain.
The News reached out to competitors via e-mail to get their thoughts on this challenging event. Their responses follow:
#1. Brian Edwards, 49, Raymond
Kayak: #20 — Bike: #1 — Hike: #5
Competing in his fifth GAC, Brian spent a lot of time prior to the race cycling, which paid off as he posted the fastest time on the hill.
“Actually, it was my first time in the kayak for the year and I felt it. I also hadn’t run since late June. But the biking! I’ve been riding a lot this year. In fact, this race pushed me over 5,000 miles for 2016. That helped a lot!” he said.
What was Brian’s toughest event? “Running down the face of the mountain is always the toughest. I won’t be able to walk down stairs without a grimace for at least a week,” he added.
As to what he likes most about the GAC, Brian said, “Rob Knowles. Rob dedicates his summer to make this a fun event for his cause. I look forward to this race every year. It is one of the friendliest events around. Each year, we make new friends at the race.”
What does he like the least? “They really need some salt shakers on the condiment table. You sweat a lot during the race and the potato salad is a little bland,” he said. “If I could change one thing, I would get one of those kayaks that are so fast that they should be illegal. It’s really impossible to paddle a tugboat as fast as a racing scull.”
#4. Nevin Rallis, 29, of Windham.
Kayak: 25th — Bike: #2 – Run: #8
Making his second appearance at the GAC, Nevin did a lot more running than last year since he had a tough time with the trek up the mountain.
“I tried relaxing a lot more during the bike, that way I was mentally fresher for the climb,” he said. “Kayaking was definitely the toughest. This was my second time kayaking this year so none of those muscles were ready and I am not used to that kind of effort.”
What did he like most about the race? “The nicely-relaxed atmosphere and Pratt’s Hill (the challenging 700-foot long uphill dirt section with a 125-foot elevation change). It is a wonderful little challenge!” he said.
What did Nevin like the least? “All the dirt roads on the bike course. I do lots of mountain biking and I prefer nice rough trails over dirt roads,” he added.
Nevin’s goals were to go faster in the run than the previous year and keep the kayak and the run the same pace.
“I did run up and down the mountain three minutes faster than the previous year, but the other two sections got a bit slower,” he said. “Great event, nice and relaxed. I really enjoy the no pressure atmosphere. The only thing I would like to see is a few more miles on trails for the bike portion. Other than that it is a great course.”
#8. Brian Davis, 47, of Scarborough.
Kayak: #5 — Bike: #14 — Hike: #2
This was Brian’s first time doing the full triathlon. He did just the run part three or four years ago.
“I train by running trails with my dogs. I tried to do some hill work, but nothing can prepare you for the mountain dash. My toughest leg was the bike as I rode it on my 25-year-old Trek with no suspension and my chain fell off nine times during the race,” he said.
Brian’s goal was to place in the Top 10, and he did by placing eighth.
“My favorite thing about the race is the atmosphere — very friendly and low key, no posturing and showing off. Just good folks having a good time,” he said. “Also, the alternative ‘mountain’ take on a triathlon is fun and refreshing and good for outdoor rec enthusiasts such as myself.”
#11. Crew 222 — Sonya Reed, Eric Roy and Chris Roy, first in the team overall, age total 101-150.
Kayak: #32 — Bike: #11 — Hike: #13
For Sonya Reed of New Hampshire, this was her sixth appearance at the GAC, fifth tackling the rugged mountain climb (she handled the biking in 2010).
For Sonya, the GAC is a family affair. Her brother, Glen Roy, lives in Naples with his family and has done all three events for several years. Glen’s son, Christopher, was on the Crew 222 team this year along with Sonya’s brother Eric Roy, who comes up from White Plains, N.Y. to participate on the Crew team.
“My 82-year-old father, who also resides in New Hampshire, has been a cheerleader since the race’s inception, so it is quite the family affair. The setting is perfect for the race and the volunteers are amazing,” she said. “The only thing I would change is the weather for my portion. I am always hiking in full sun at 85 degrees! We look forward to year 10.”
#12. Christopher Pingree Felts, 39, of Naples. His wife, Amber Pingree Felts, 28, each did all three stages as individuals.
Chris: Kayak #9, Bike #7, Hike #25
Amber: Kayak #50, Bike #49, Hike #56
“This was my second race and Amber’s first, but she has helped Rob as a volunteer from Good Neighbors (now Morrison Center) for several years. We both kayak, run and mountain bike for both fitness and recreation to prep for the race,” Chris said. “I personally changed one thing as my approach from last year ,which was to allow the volunteers to check me in after each stage. I missed the check in at the summit last year and wasn’t recorded entirely as a result. So my advise is to slow down and be checked in!”
The toughest event — in the couples’ minds — is the kayak.
“It is an arm burner and we don’t do kayak specific workouts as much as we just paddle for fun,” he said. “The thing we like most about the race is the community of people who volunteer and race. Very family-oriented. It is a competitive, friendly and motivated bunch.”
The heat was probably the most least liked aspect of the race for the couple, but “it certainly does its job to create the challenge and its better then postponement or racing in bad weather.”
“Aside from that one minor issue, this is a gem of a race to experience and take part in,” Chris added. “Being part of it is something we have come to look forward to doing every year.”
#14. Josh Harrington, 32, of Denmark, was a member of a team — Safety First. He handled the hike, which Josh posted the third fastest time. Other team members were Scott Hendricks (kayak) and Nikolai Cudlitz (bike).
Josh competed in the GAC as a solo once, and now a member of a relay.
“Since this was my second time racing and first as a team, I felt the prep was much easier. I just hiked the mountain several times in the weeks/months leading up to the race,” he said. “The people are the best part of this event. It’s great to see people push their limits. It builds a real sense of comradery. I thought the volunteers did a great job with the food and the band was fantastic.”
Josh’s goal was to win their age category, which Safety First did. He also wanted to hike the mountain in under 38 minutes, which he did.
#15. Ralph Colarusso , 58, Brockton, Mass.
Kayak: #15 — Bike: #12 — Hike: #28
In his sixth GAC, Ralph prepared for the triathlon by doing as much mountain biking on tough terrain as possible. His hill training was on the only hill in his area, which is a capped landfill.
“The hill climb (was my toughest event). I don’t have much meniscus left in my knees so coming down is very tough,” he said.
When asked what he liked about the GAC, Ralph said, “The organization by Rob and the challenge. What's not to like except no mud this year! ”
Ralph wouldn’t mind changing out the kayak portion for a swim, instead. His goal was to turn in a personal best.
“Yes by 3 minutes !” he said.
He added, “Rob and his team do a great job and I hope it continues for many years. Also, $60 is a great value in racing compared to the $50 5Ks and 10Ks and $120 swim, bike, run triathlons that seem to be standard.”
#18. Justin Rowe, 35, of Farmington.
Kayak: #26 — Bike: #22 — Hike: #7
This was Justin’s second year competing in the GAC.
“I trained for six weeks by doing a different exercise each day. One day, I would do a two-mile paddle, the next day a six to seven mile trail ride on my mountain bike then the next day a four-mile run with some hill sprints. I also added in a few 4,000-foot mountains on the weekends to get in some hiking to prepare for the hill climb (which was the hardest!),” he said.
Justin felt the scramble up Pleasant Mountain was the hardest part of the event due to the physical exertion required in the first two legs of the race.
“I liked the competition this year because it seemed to be a bit tighter than last year. I wanted to beat my time from last year and I did by 15 minutes! To shave off some time I used a camelbak to carry my own water so I didn’t have to stop at the hydration stations and I used energy gels to keep my electrolytes up during the race,” he said. “Even though the atmosphere was very laid back, there was still enough competition to make it a great challenge for me. I plan on returning next year because the overall experience including the band and great food was awesome!”
#20. Jennifer Genovese, 44, of Windham. Second woman overall finisher.
Kayak: #49 — Bike: #16 — Hike: #26
Competing in the GAC for the sixth time, Jennifer had been training since October for Spartan racing, which entails lots of running and strength training.
“The climb at the end is a true test of your endurance and grit. Your legs are screaming to stop, but you want to finish strong, so you just keep pushing through,” she said. “The mountain bike leg is so much fun because you can really go fast and you get to see views that are usually off limits.”
The kayak leg is Jennifer’s least favorite event.
“It is hard to paddle that intensely for so long, it feels like everyone’s wake is just keeping you in place and you’re not going anywhere!” she said. “I want a fast boat! A couple guys had beautiful sleek boats that flew through the water.”
Her goal was to beat the women’s mountain bike record and she finally did it this year by over three minutes.
“I couldn’t be happier with my race this year!” she said. “Rob and all of the volunteers put on a super fun race! I look forward to this unique triathlon every year.”
#24. Scott Zimmermann, 45, of Newmarket, N.H.
Kayak: #16 — Bike: #20 — Hike: #44
A first timer, Scott heard about the GAC from his friend, Craig Marden, another triathlete.
“Our 8-year-old daughters are in dance class together and over the years our families have grown close. I originally wasn’t planning to race because of a business trip to Chicago scheduled for the same day, though when he told me about it last year, I was interested. Two weeks before the race, my trip to Chicago was canceled and realizing that I could compete with Craig for a good cause, I signed up immediately and began training,” Scott said.
What was his toughest event? “Without a doubt, the first mile of the run, i.e. the hill climb. After peddling hard for 16 miles, my legs were tired. Then, I had to walk up that steep slope in the sun. My right quadricep started cramping. It was harder than I ever would have expected,” he said.
What did he like most? “The biking. I got out ahead of the pack and had a fun, fast, and safe ride on well groomed roads and trails,” he said.
And what did he like the least? “Coming down the mountain on mile two of the run. I got lost. I was looking down at my feet and the trail so as to have secure footing. I didn’t make a turn somewhere and got lost. I tried to find the course and got even more lost. I made it to the bottom of the mountain and was two slopes over. I had to run through heavy woods to get to the finish line. I was upset with myself for not paying attention and the people who laid out the course because it was not laid out well enough for the descent. I was not the only person that got lost. Rather than my finish being a happy moment with my family, I was frustrated for getting lost and losing time,” he said. “There should be better markings on the running/hiking trail to prevent people from accidentally going off of it when descending.”
Scott’s goal was to have fun, have a great day of physical activity, be faster than Craig, and not get injured.
“I was 4 for 4,” he said. “I am looking forward to next year and I’ll be better prepared for the rigors of the hill climb.”
#25. Michael McLeod, 47, of Bow, N.H. and Bridgton.
Kayak: #17 — Bike: #24 — Hike: #43
Competing in his seventh GAC, Mike and his wife, Angela, who also competed (her sixth time), bike around the Pleasant Mountain area, kayak Moose Pond and run up Shawnee Peak over the course of the summer.
“The mountain is always the hardest for me. Your legs are tired. You’re running on empty. The heat was particularly tough this year. Really no shade,” he said. “We come back every year for the people. The folks who put on the race are top notch. Rob Knowles is one-of-a-kind! We wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
If he could change one thing about the race, Mike would like to ride a waterslide from the top of Shawnee Peak down into Moose Pond to finish the race.
“My goal is the same every year. Finish the race and not get hurt!” he said. “As always, a big thank you to Rob Knowles and his family. We all appreciate all of the hard work that goes into this event. The volunteers are all wonderful. Makes raising money for a good cause easy when it’s this fun. Thank you to all of the sponsors, as well. Many of us competing come to this area as a second home. We shop all of the local businesses. Their support is greatly appreciated.”
#33. Angela McLeod, 41, Bow, N.H.
Kayak: #27 — Bike: #37 — Hike: #29
“I wish I had had more time this year to prepare for this race. I do exercise throughout the year, however without that baseline fitness, I don’t think I could have done as well as I did. I did a half marathon in May and I attend Boot Camp two times a week. I also love to run a few mornings a week with my friends before work, when I can fit it in,” she said.
What was her toughest event? “This year, it was the hike. I was just exhausted by that point and it felt so hot hiking up Shawnee Peak. The camaraderie of the other competitors running down and cheering, ‘You’re almost there!’ is so inspirational. It’s the greatest thing about this race,” Angela said. “I always love the mountain bike portion. It was super dry and very sandy this time. My back tire kept spinning out on me, but thankfully I never crashed.”
If she could change one thing about her race, Angela said she plans to train more for the event’s 10-year anniversary in 2017!
“I hope the busyness of being a mom of two girls with their own activities, a doctor with call, and a doctor’s wife will allow me to get some time to run, bike and hike,” she said. “(Her goal) it’s always the same — have fun, not get hurt and try to beat my husband, Mike McLeod. I accomplished the first two. There’s always next year to get my third goal!”
Angela thanks Rob Knowles and all the volunteers for making the GAC such a great event and keeping it going for so many years.
#44. Glen Roy, 55, of Naples
Kayak: #48 — Bike: #48 — Hike: #41
A veteran of the GAC, Glen has been a member of a team twice, and taken on the Challenge as an individual six times.
“The race is a great challenge, also fun and there is great comradery helping other competitors. I know when I had cramps two years ago, some gave me electrolyte gel packs so I could get through the race. This year, I was able to return that favor to another athlete who said he greatly appreciated it — helped his cramps get better and finish the race. Everyone is always encouraging the other whether kayaking, biking or running up and down the mountain. It is a race of courage and determination,” he said. “The course also has some great scenery, especially the views when hiking, running up the mountain.”
Glen appreciates the efforts race director Rob Knowles and his team of commited volunteers.
“Rob does a great job as race director, putting his heart and soul in making sure this is great race and fun for all. A great thanks to all the volunteers — I appreciate all they do taking our kayaks in transition to the bikes and making sure through the course there is plenty of water and Gatorade. I know the race would not be possible without the volunteers so a great cheers and thanks to them. It is great to hear the band playing as you take off for the run up the mountain and also great to hear on the return to base,” he said. “I hope the Shawnee Peak staff can make the chairlifts available for future races as it would be great for spectators to see that part of the race and encourage their friends and families members.”
Glen added, “We must never forget the ultimate goal of the race is fundraising for a great cause. Thanks Rob for making sure 100% of the proceeds goes to people with disabilities through the Morrison Center. All your hard work is greatly appreciated.”
GAC is more than a race, it brings people together, Glen said.
“It a great family event as my sister, Sunny Reed, brother Eric Roy and my son, Christopher Roy competed as a team. They have a great time. Eric comes every year from New York and Sunny from New Hampshire,” Glen said.