Adventure racing is an endurance sport which involves travel on foot (trekking or running), mountain bike and by water (canoe, kayak, raft, occasionally swimming).

What differentiates AR from other racing sports is the inclusion of wilderness navigation using a map, compass and common sense. There is no set race course; participants must find their own route from one checkpoint to the next. The checkpoints (CPs) are marked on maps which the racers receive shortly prior to or at the start of the race. AR also differs from other sports in that racers are part of a team of 2-4 people who travel together the entire time.

The races can last from several hours to many days and are unsupported, for the most part, which means that the racers carry what they will need (food, water, gear) in backpacks for the duration of the race.

To succeed, racers will need athletic endurance, navigation skills, mental toughness, good pre-race planning, strategic decision making as well as a strong and supportive "team" mentality.

Sound intimidating? While it's true that longer races can test even the toughest outdoor athletes, AR is a very open and inclusive sport. Beginning racers will feel welcome at nearly every event. Most races are organized so that anyone at any level of experience and fitness can participate. You can find a race near you on the calendar at the USARA website.

Friday, March 4, 2011

2011 Frigid Infliction 2/26/2011

2011 Frigid Infliction – West Bolton VT
10 hour winter adventure race – Green Mountain Adventure Racing Association

A winter storm blew through the area the night before the race, leaving about a foot of fresh powder on the course and greatly inhibiting travel to registration on that same night.  What was usually a 3 hour trip turned into a 5-6 hour ordeal with spouse cringing in the passenger seat for most of the drive through highway conditions we’ll call “variable”.
No concessions were made by the race organizers for registration and race start time cut offs (this is adventure racing after all!), but we made reg with an hour to spare and tried to grab some decent sleep before the 4:30 AM pre-race meeting in the morning.  As is usually the case before a race, we all slept poorly but were eagerly awaiting map and race details as we made it to the Bolton Valley Nordic Center in the breezy, very cold (single digits I believe), pre-dawn.
The initial leg was 3 snowshoe checkpoints up in the hills surrounding the Nordic Center which were wooded, now thickly powdered with new snow and criss-crossed with XC and snowshoe trails.  None of us knew the layout of the resort or where to access the trails from the Nordic Center, so we just set our compass bearing for the first CP and followed the crowd, in lemming fashion.  After a few minutes we zigged when they zagged and we were finally alone on the trails in the darkness.  A little rustiness was evident as we greatly overshot CP1 and climbed the Coyote trail much further uphill than needed; a quick consultation of the altimeter confirmed we were way too high and we beat a hasty descent, got bushed-out on an attempted contour toward the CP and ended up at bottom of the hill following the train of teams that were now ahead of us and coming down from CP1.  After grabbing that point, we beat a due west course over the stream to Brook Run trail where CP2 looked to be an easy nav just off the trail.
We arrived to where the map and altimeter suggested that the CP would be, only to find about 8 or 10 teams aimlessly milling about the same acre where we thought the CP should be.  We joined in this process for about 10-15 minutes until we finally found the CP, along with a lot of other teams, a bit downslope of its expected location.  The descent from CP2 was pretty crowded now.  We were behind at least 4 or 5 teams slowly descending the single-file snowshoe track.  Luckily this opened up shortly onto a wider trail, allowing us to run past these teams, down the gentle slope toward CP3.  After 5 minutes or so of running, we were alone again and, when at the proper altitude, made a quick southern descent onto Joiner Brook, where we picked up the track of the lead team, and quickly found CP3.  Instead of climbing out of the stream canyon at this point, we continued to follow it upstream until we were just below the Nordic Center, our destination and first TA.  Unfortunately between us and the TA was now a very steep (looking at the topo map now) 150 foot climb out of the stream canyon.  We clawed and crawled our way up this slope, aided by many saplings and rolled into TA1.
Judging by the amount of skis remaining at the TA, we were in okay shape despite early nav problems.  This was a pretty slow TA for us – changing out of snowshoes/boots into XC gear, affixing snowshoes and boots to our packs and taking a second to eat and drink.
We could have saved TA time by snowshoeing in our XC boots, but we had decided it was worth the extra time to have our preferred snowshoeing/postholing footwear.
Anyway, off to go get the 3 ski CPs and warm those hands up with some exertion after the long TA.  The first was CP5 since race organizers had dropped CP4, as the course was running slow.  This was a long uphill slog with easy nav to this point.  From there it was a circuitous trip to pick up CP6 and CP7.  The challenging part at this point was trying to decide which of the trails on the trail map would get you to the CP on the race map, on which no trails were marked.  We were eventually able to do this, with several hiccups.  The most humorous part was following 330º of a trail loop instead of the 30º of the loop that would have taken us directly to the CP. 
I was very apprehensive about the XC leg of the race as my XC skills were very rudimentary, having only picked up the sport 2 months earlier, in preparation for the race.  This wasn’t as big an issue as it could have been, due to the highly technical backcountry trails we were on – not a lot of kick-and-glide happening here.  Steep ascent followed white-knuckled descent repeatedly for most of this leg.  This leveled the field a little. Just like an awesome mountain biker could clean a hairy rocky technical section in about the same time it takes for a novice to hike-a-bike the same section, we didn’t lose a lot of time from my low skill level.  The large amount of fresh powder facilitated my preferred technique of eliminating undesired velocity – the intentional fall (well, frequently intentional).  After picking up CP7, it was a relaxing and fun long moderate descent to TA2. 
After dropping our skis and changing back into snowshoes it was off to CP 8.  We bolted to where we thought it should be, only to be greeted by silence and no tracks.  This moment of self doubt quickly passed as we soon found we were right on track and CP8 was quickly sighted by an alert Rob, who excels at unexpectedly finding CPs.  Then we simply followed the lead team’s trail to TA3 – the tyrolean traverse over the Joiner Brook gully.  This was a thrilling change of pace as we were soon 40 (?) feet above the canyon floor as we shuffled and slid across the horizontal rope to the other side (see video) – clipped in and helmeted, of course.
Following next was 3 posthole CPs (9, 10, 11) with little elevation change and little nav, as we were learning to trust the tracks of the lead team (s) – nice job UltraBambi and whoever else was out there navigating from scratch!  Although we were assisted by Rob scanning up front, making sure we didn’t pass CP10. 
A quick trip to T5, and we were greeted by free water – "free" as in we didn't have to carry it – and strapped the snowshoes back on for the next section.  I think Nick heard that we were second in our division at this point.  The fairly tightly clustered CPs up to this point contrasted with what lay ahead on this leg – 5 points over a few square miles with 1000 ft elevation change.  The CPs were atop and on the eastern face of a 2000 ft ridge.  Highlights included a butt-sledding descent from CP12 to CP14 down an absurdly steep section (see video) and the tough climb to our final checkpoint (you could get them in any order) which was CP 13 at 2110 ft.
From there it was a long, gentle downhill run, losing 500 ft, to the final TA, where we picked up our skis and decided how we wanted to travel the wide open path to the finish line which was a little over a mile away with ~400 ft of gain.  We all chose a different method, Rob skied, I snowshoed and Nick trekked in boots and crampons.  Rob had the easiest time of it, carrying my pack for much of the last mile and Nick lamented his choice in short order.  We had little left in the tank at this point and I was figuratively fueled by the fear of missing the 10 hr cutoff, which was looming very close indeed as well as the knowledge of wife, kids and beer available at the finish line after the long day.  I was literally fueled by a third of a gel given to me by Nick during this leg, in a selfless gesture of captainly goodwill.
We rolled into the finish line at 9 hours 56 minutes, with a 4 minute cushion before the cutoff.  We won our division (3 person male) by less than 4 minutes and managed to nab 3rd overall among all finishers.
Food and malty refreshments were enjoyed by all at the post-race dinner in the comely confines of The Ponds at Bolton Valley.
This was a great, fun, well-run race by the veteran organizers of GMARA.  We thank them and the wonderful volunteers we had the good fortune of interacting with during the day.  

1st place in the 3-person male division: Port City Veterinary Specialists!
Photo: GMARA

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