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.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

GMARA Frigid Infliction. Bolton Valley, VT 2/28/15

Another winter, another chance to participate in one of our favorite races. This year's Frigid really lived up to its moniker. The 5:00 AM start was below zero and race temps peaked only in the teens. Other complicating factors included the usual DEEP snow (about 3 feet) and the requirement this year that all gear had to be carried the whole time. The downside of this was trying to move through the woods with skis on your back during showshoe and posthole legs, which was often frustrating. The upside was that this allowed more freedom of course design, including some backcountry TA locations, as well as a final leg on which you could ski or shoe or transition as you saw fit. This introduced some more strategic decision-making into the mix.

A little road run to start off.!
 The race began with a...road run. 1 mi downhill on the paved access road in winter/ski boots with snowshoes and skis bouncing around on your backpack. This a was an effective early test of how secure your packing/lashing system was. At the end of this, we received the race maps and headed into the woods on snowshoes to pick up 5 CPs in the hills. There was a little packed trail initially on this leg but it was otherwise in the deep powder, meaning that whoever was in the lead was navigating and laboriously breaking trail for everyone behind them. Because of this, we had a group of 15-20 racers in a conga line through the majority of the first 2 legs. In past years, an elite team (Untamed New England, e.g.) had been present, laying down track, navigating and still having the speed to shed the pack of mid-upper pack racers. Without an elite team this year, none of us peleton members had the ability to get away from the pack with speed or nav. This was a little frustrating but gave us a chance to chat with some of the other teams (Ultrabambi, Goose AR, Fitness Underwear) as we pushed along through the powder. We led during several sections but arrived at TA3 with a lot of other teams, essentially a race re-start from that point.

Postholing conga line

The next leg was a ski leg on the backcountry XC trails (narrow, steep ascents/descents). In previous years the BC skiing has included some of terrifying moments up on the mountain. This year, it seemed a little tamer, skewing the fun:fear ratio into a more desirable range. This was another solid leg for us; we navigated well, generally, and stayed among the leaders. It was a relief to get the skis off your back too and move a little more slickly through the woods.

At CP 12
Mason on the ropes course
We then headed to the ropes course: 4 available elements about 25' feet off the ground while belayed by a staff member of Petra Cliffs. A quick fun change of pace and then back out for the final leg: 5 CPs and 3 bonus CPS; you could use skis or snowshoes as you desired. Our plan was to work through the CPs in a counterclockwise fashion, starting with CP 13 at 2750ft. We hustled up to the trails that would get us close, found what seemed to be the feature we needed (a stream/reentrant) and began to follow it uphill off-trail. That's when things started to unravel for us. Because it was such a hassle to get anything out of your pack in this cold, encumbered race, we had not been eating/drinking enough and we had a team bonk as we began bushwhacking on snowshoes. With our slow brains and bodies, we veered off the feature and looped back across it, gradually losing our sense of where we were and trekking further into the slow backcountry terrain. We spent a good 2 hours moving through the mountains with nothing to show for it other than getting cold and falling out of contention in the race as time wound down. With a little more than an hour left, we rallied for a stronger western surge to find some trails and grab 2 easier on-trail CPs (15, 16) before bombing downhill on skis and snowshoes to finish with 20 mins to spare. Looking back at our Strava track, we were tantalizingly close to CPs 13 and 14 but did not have the mental faculties to find them at the time.

Coming into the finish
Rob discussing our interesting final leg with GMARA's Chris Yager. 
The race dinner was, as usual, a delicious affair at The Ponds at Bolton Valley, where we had a chance to chat with other teams and enjoy some free beer (thanks Zero Gravity!). We also got a peek at a sweet composite race map of all 10 Frigid Inflictions - cool! We ended up with a 2nd place in the 3-man division and 10th place overall out of 33 teams. Special congrats go to Thorin and Meredith of Fitness Underwear, a local team relatively new to AR who had an awesome race, getting 17/17 CPs plus one bonus CP, the top performance of the day. Huge thanks, as always, to GMARA, the volunteers and all the sponsors.

Photos courtesy of GMARA - thank you

Final stats:
14.4 mi
4400 ft climb
time 9:45

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