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.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

3/8/14 GMARA Frigid Infliction. 10 hour race. West Bolton, VT

The Frigid Infliction is one of our favorite races. Schedules permitting, it is a fixture every year for the race calendar. For the last 4 (?) years it has been held in the hills around Bolton Valley ski area.  This locale offers a great mix of hilly backcountry, rough trails and some groomed XC trails. The race was especially popular this year, with GMARA deciding to cap registration at 40 teams.

A 4:00 AM alarm in the hotel room got us down to race HQ in almost enough time for the 4:30 race meeting where we received the maps and course instructions. The format this year was: ski - posthole - snowshoe - tyrolean traverse - snowshoe - ski. We had about 10 minutes or so to plan our approach to the first couple CPs on the maps and then it was out into the 5:00 frosty air for a mass start on skis.

Quick mapping session before the start in Bolton Valley Nordic Center.     Photo: GMARA
The first ski leg was 2 CPs that were relatively easy to find, then we headed down off the groomed trails toward the first TA. There was some pretty sketchy terrain through this section, especially the final downhill pitch to the TA which was a steep, rutted, iced-over 4x4 track. It should be mentioned that all adventure races are preceded by the participants signing a lengthy waiver so that race directors can feel free to include such features as this.

At TA1, about to set off on the "postholing" leg.      Photo: GMARA

At this first transition area (TA1), we left our skis and set out for 3 postholing CPs. Postholing refers to traveling in deep snow with just your boots on. On the drive up, we were noticing thin snow cover with some bare spots in the woods adjacent to the highway; we figured this would make the backcountry travel a lot easier and faster than in prior races. It wasn't like that at all. The hills were cloaked in 16-24 inches of thinly crusted powder. We were not exactly chewing through the miles, therefore, as we completed this leg of 3 CPs while covering about a mile and climbing a few hundred feet of elevation. As is typical of the early stages of adventure races, but especially the Frigid, where the lead team laboriously makes a deep conspicuous track in the snow, there were a lot of teams moving together in a (now) sweaty Conga line through the deep snow. So no real navigational challenges here, as it had all been done for us by a few teams up the course.

Postholing descent near dawn.

The posthole finished at TA2, where we donned the snowshoes we'd been carrying and set off on a lengthy snowshoe leg of 7 CPs. Like a few teams we saw, we first got the nearby CP7. We then made the decision to get the remaining points in a clockwise loop while most everyone went counterclockwise. So, we were breaking trail and navigating from scratch, making first tracks to CP6 and CP8. Talking with some racers at dinner afterward, we agreed that AR is best enjoyed when your team is alone on the course, not following or being followed by any visible other teams. Between CP8 and CP9, there was some difficult terrain, involving some "optional" cliff descents and a very steep slow ascent in thick forest and 18 inches of crusty powder, gaining about 130 feet in just 100m.

Rob making first tracks at CP 6
Nick at CP 8

Western ascent to CP9
After some more moderate climbing we crossed paths with the lead team going counter-clockwise, Untamed New England, who were navigating and breaking trail for a long train of teams behind them. We could then cruise easily downhill on easy trail, snowshoe-skiing much of the way to CP11 and CP12 after nabbing CP9 at 2670 ft elevation. We then had to navigate a little bit to CP10 at a nice vista.

The ghost of Nick with Mason at nice view at CP10 while Rob punches the passport.
As we had obtained all the CPs on the leg, it was time to make our way to the next TA. We started heading to it then had some shared mental hiccups and found ourselves back at a nearly deserted TA2 instead of the preferred target of TA3. For some reason it had gotten into our heads that we were heading back to this TA after the snowshoe leg. This was a major navigational screw-up which cost us a good amount of time.  We had to travel a km to get to TA3. We also had to do this through unbroken snow because there is no reason why anyone should be trekking from TA2 to TA3 as we were.

Slightly demoralized, we arrived at TA3 which was the start of the tyrolean traverse, which is when you cross a canyon using a horizontal rope. Stowing the snowshoes and getting geared up for the rope and doing the reverse on the other side took quite a few minutes and really cooled us off, but the rope, as always, was a high point of the race. Depressingly though, we learned we were the 17th team across the rope.

Mason on tyrolean traverse.     Photo: GMARA

Nick entering the TT.          Photo: GMARA

Following a short snowshoe to TA5, we switched to skis for the remainder of the race. A short 350 ft climb led to the area of the next CP, 17. We used the location on an old ski lodge on the topo map as an attack point for the CP and failed to find it repeatedly, eventually determining the lodge was inaccurately placed on that map. Lots of teams struggled with this CP. We found it after a long delay. Another time consuming mistake; in a short race like this, you really can't expect to place well if you waste large chunks of time making up for nav errors. On the upside, we hadn't skipped any CPs and we strategized that we should have just enough time to get the remaining 4 CPs as well as one of the Bonus CPs if we hustled and avoided major errors. So we made good time climbing 700 feet and grabbing the next 2 CPs (including Bonus B, which was worth 90 minutes). After Bonus B, things got real sketchy on the skis. The terrain near the top of the ridge would have been hard to traverse on foot on bare earth.  Add 2 feet of snow and skis on your feet and the technical up and downs presented a substantial physical and mental challenge. We awkwardly made our way through this section and ended up with about 45 minutes of time left to get down off the mountain, grab one more CP and head to the finish line, which we were able to do in about 30 minutes.

Done!                   Photo: GMARA
All in all we logged just over 20 miles and over 5000 ft of elevation gain. It was another great Frigid. We ended up second in the 3-man division, which we were okay with, given the problems we had on course. Top race honors went to Untamed New England, who crushed the course in typical fashion. The after-race banquet at The Ponds was great as always. We would like to again thank GMARA organizers and the volunteers and sponsors who make all of this possible. Frigid 2015 is already on the extended team event calendar.

This is how hard Rob races


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