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.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

NYARA The Longest Day 18 hour Adventure Race Southern Catskills, NY 5/17/13

After our great experience at the NYARA-organized 2012 Nationals, making the trip south to participate in The Longest Day was a no-brainer. The Longest Day is the longest of NYARA's annual races and this year's edition was an 18-hour affair with an 11:30 PM start time on Friday night.

Similar to Nationals, the course was fairly linear, with the teams being bused from the finish line, dropped off far away, and trekking, mountain biking and kayaking their way back to race HQ. Getting off the buses into the 50 degree night air, we were stoked to get started with some racing to get the blood flowing. The actual race was preceded by a prologue, which would help spread out the teams and avoid the massive game of follow-the-leader which accompanies a mass start. In this prologue, teams had to find 2 pairs of nearby checkpoints (CPs) and then return to the start to receive their maps for the first leg of the proper race. If a team could do this in less than an hour, they would have the advantage of an early start on the first leg. NH Trail Vets did not fall in this category. Early jitters and some difficult and swampy night navigation left us skunked at our first 2 intended targets. Looking back at the maps, we were within 50-100m of both CPs but just couldn't close the deal on either one. We ended up finding 2 CPs and then made our way back to the start to wait 5 minutes for the hour to pass so we could get our maps and begin the initial trekking leg. We used this short down time to shed some layers and eat and drink a bit.

Deer in headlamp. Nick after prologue. 12:30 AM.
The first trekking leg consisted of 8 optional CPs scattered in a 2 x 4 km area of Stewart State Forest. Terrain was wooded with a few dirt roads, lots of singletrack and a few hills and swamps. Teams were allowed to get a maximum of 7 of the 8 CPs. It took us a few CPs to really hit our stride with the nav, but we finished stronger and did pretty well overall on this section, finding our 7 CPs in 2 hours 40 mins, while logging several miles of night trail running. After the final CP in this section, we made the unfortunate decision to bushwhack directly toward the TA rather than backtracking on a trail. This would have been fine in normal forest, but we quickly found out that most of the forest floor in this stretch was choked with invasive underbrush - multiflora rose and honeysuckle, which made for a painful yet slow traverse toward the end at Weed Road, where we would find TA1 and begin the first bike leg.

Mounting our bikes at 3:18 AM, we now faced a Norwegian-style Bike-O. We got a map with 3 mandatory CPs on it, in the same trail system as the trek. At each mandatory CP there would be a map showing the location of an optional CP and that optional CP would have a map for a second optional CP. 2 optional CPs (OPs)  per mandatory CP multiplies out to 6 OPs available for this leg. For the most part, these trails were smooth, flowing singletrack and cruising along them by headlight was pretty fun. The spring had been really dry in the northeast and there was virtually no mud to be found on the trails, which was nice. The navigation for this section was not too difficult and we got the 3 mandatory and 6 optional CPs in 2:54, the third best time, while covering about 11.7 mi.

The sun was up now and our next task was riding 7.5 mi on roads to TA2 where we would begin the paddle. Shortly into this ride, Nick got a flat tire, which we changed without incident. That makes 2 races in a row where Nick flatted on pavement. We longingly rode past an open diner in Walden, NY and continued to Wallkill, the location of TA2 and the kayak put-in.

Mason and Nick. TA2. 6:30 AM. Wallkill, NY
Morning on the Wallkill River.
This was a relatively lengthy TA, as we changed out of bike shoes and got set up for the paddle. We also took time to eat some food, fill water and Nick and Mason availed themselves of a nearby Port-a-Potty that had seen better days. We had 2 sit-atop kayaks for the 3 of us. Nick and Mason rode in one and Rob soloed in the other. A sit-atop kayak has a perforated bottom, so you are pretty much in a puddle the whole time. At dawn in May, that led to some initial chilliness, but some eventual warm sun and hard paddling kept the cold at bay for the most part. The dry spring weather had resulted in a pretty low water level on the Wallkill River and there was a fair amount of scraping bottom, shoving the boat off the rocks with the paddles, and occasional periods of walking the boat through particularly shallow regions. The paddle was long (~7mi and 2 hours) and relatively uneventful, except for an early portage around a dam. No CPs or nav on the paddle, just a TA at each end.

The paddle ended at TA3 in Gardiner, NY. This was another long TA as we had worked up quite an appetite during the paddle and we needed to cover up a bit since we were wet and the 7.5 mi road ride ahead would cool us quickly. Our bikes had been trucked from the beginning of the paddle to this TA. Mason found his bike and shoes sitting in a deep patch of poison ivy, but, writing this 5 days later, no ill effects are evident. Windbreakers were donned, maps were changed, food was eaten and then we hit the road.  Near the end of the road section we refilled water at the hose of a friendly homeowner in the Tilson Lake area and then continued onto dirt road in the Awosting Reserve. From here to the end of the race we would be in the Shawangunk Mountains (aka "the Gunks"). This part of the race was consistently scenic and the gorgeous environs definitely took the edge of the physical suffering occurring at the end of the race.  This was the beginning of a 4-mile 1400 ft climb on winding gravel/dirt roads with mandatory CP7 found about halfway up the climb and about 100m off the road at a pretty stream. .More climbing and then a level hike-a-bike section led to the south shore of Lake Awosting at 1880 ft. The shores of the lake were made up of flat slabs of exposed granite bedrock and interspersed forest. TA4 was on the south shore. We were the first team in our division to reach the TA and only the fast coed teams were ahead of us, which was encouraging.

Rob on the shore of scenic Lake Awosting, TA4       Photo:NYARA

Gun show. Mason and Nick transitioning to trek mode, TA4        Photo: NYARA
At this TA, we grabbed some food and treated some lake water and switched back to trekking mode, leaving our bikes here to find up to 6 OPs scattered around the lake. We began by traveling counter-clockwise around the lake to get down with OP P. We had a good bit of initial confusion reconciling the map with the roads we were encountering on our way there but eventually figured it out and found P atop a 30-40 ft rocky prominence guarded by cliffs that were choked with mountain laurel and other trees and brush. It was a real fight to gain the top of this knoll and spike the CP. We then made our way south on roads and then trail to OP J. This was easily found but the flag was hidden in a shallow narrow cave that we had to individually squeeze into to e-punch: literally and figuratively cool. The map indicated a long trip back to the start/finish on bikes and we only had about 3 hours left until time cutoff, so we elected to skip the remaining OPs around the lake and head back to the TA. Luckily for us, the fastest route back to the TA was a stunning cliff-top trail that we ran back to the TA and grabbed our bikes for the long ride back.

This looked like a long ride back on the map, but almost all of it was downhill or flat on gravel or paved roads and the miles came quickly. We had to pick up mandatory CPs 10, 11 and 12 along the way. 10 was easy. 11 was also easy but we seriously overshot it zooming down Rt. 44 and had to backtrack on forest road to the CP which was 200m into the woods by a stream. Then we continued to CP12, where we also encountered a bit of navigational delay as we followed the crowd rather than the map. This CP was found atop a steep 100ft ridge just off the road. There were lots of teams around for these last few points, as everyone was making their way back as the clock was ticking down. After 12, it was some more easy riding on really pretty gravel forest roads all the way back to our cars and the finish line.

Although the grill was going and post-race festivities were ramping up, we still had over an hour until 5:00 and there were up to 6 OPs in the hills around us to be had with a little more effort, and so we transitioned back to trekking gear and headed back out to grab OPs Q and S without much difficulty. The next closest target was T, but it was across a valley atop a cliff and a full 2km from the finish line. It was very questionable whether that could happen in the remaining 40 minutes and so we called it a race and mustered a slow jog to the finish line 1.5km away.

The parents of co-course designer Amy Bartoletti put together a delicious post-race BBQ for everyone that was exactly what we needed. We 3 definitely did some damage trying our best to gain back all our calories in one sitting. The post-race awards were announced soon after. The overall win (fastest 3/4-person coed team) went to Checkpoint Zero, with Untamed New England in a close second in that division. The best time  on the course was had by the 2-person coed Untamed Team. We managed a win in the 3/4-man division and each received probably our best prize so far, a gift card for a pair of Scott running shoes of our choosing. We found all of the mandatory CPs and 17 out of 25 possible OPs, while covering 72.6 miles in 17 hours and 9 minutes. That gave us the 9th best overall finish out of 32 teams.

This was a great race, very well designed and executed by NYARA and especially course designers Rodney Villela and Amy Bartoletti. The fact that all the top teams were tightly racing each other in the last hour to clear the course speaks to how well-designed the course was. Thank you NYARA, we will be back!

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