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.

Monday, March 7, 2016

GMARA Frigid Infliction, 3/5/16, Bolton Valley, VT

3:30 AM cell phone alarms woke us in time for 30 minutes of pre-race gearing up, eating cold pizza, coffee and hopping in the car for a quick ride to Bolton Valley ski area's nordic center for our 6th trip to the Frigid Infliction. We had a delicious visit to Waterbury's Prohibition Pig brewpub the night before, sampling some delicious local brews (including race sponsor Zero Gravity's Conehead IPA) followed up by some further carb-loading at Zachary's Pizza, saving leftover pizza for breakfast and for the race.

Our prior 5 Frigids have featured 2-3 feet of backcountry snow. Things were different this year. Bolton was covered in a layer of 1-8" of icy crust and an inch or so of snow on top of that. The surface was not suited to skiing and therefore GMARA had converted the ski legs to additional snowshoe legs. The course would be 4 snowshoe legs, one leg on foot and as many bonus snowshoe loops as you had time for at the end of the race, if you had hustled through the main course. Race conditions were good: temps between 5 and 25F, light winds and sunny. Registration was strong this year: 42 teams of 2-3 people.

The RDs had designed a variable initial leg that would do a great job of spreading the teams out.  The lack of deep snow also allowed easier separation from other teams.  There were 5 possible CPs on the leg which were variably valued depending on degree of difficulty.  You needed to accumulate 10 pts before returning to base. You could go for the one distant, mountaintop CP which was worth 10 pts or get a combination of closer CPs to add up to 10.  We did the latter, which seemed to work out well.

Nick wasn't able to find his "A" snowshoes while packing and so he brought a backup pair of Baldas snowshoes we had won in a previous race.  Both of these snowshoes broke apart within 15 minutes under race conditions. Rob lost a metal tine off of his MSR snowshoe's crampon later in the race. My Tubbs made it through without problems.  This was a tough day to be snowshoe (or snowshoer); 9 hours of pounding an unyielding crust is a solid field test.  Nick retained one snowshoe flapping around on his foot to respect the snowshoe requirement of this leg; the other was totaled. Luckily, when we returned to HQ, GMARA's Colin was able to provide Nick with a loaner set to abuse for the remainder of the race. Otherwise, our race would have been extremely short.

Snowshoe carnage         Photo: GMARA

The next leg consisted of finding 5 CPs on what was to have been a ski leg.  The CPs were primarily on/around (what would have been) groomed trails. Lots of climbing and running in snowshoes. We wrapped up this leg and entered TA2 around the 3 hr mark.  Here we got to take off the snowshoes and carry them for a while to complete this third leg on foot.  This process was greatly aided by wearing microspikes over our boots to provide some bite on the icy crust.  Normally, in the Frigid, these on-foot "posthole" legs are a slow deep slog, but with the current conditions, this was not the case.  We whipped through these 5 CPs around Joiner Brook in 30 minutes and arrived as the second team (Goose AR was 20 mins ahead) to reach the Tyrolean traverse (TT) over the Joiner Brook ravine.

Clipping in for the tyrolean traverse

Not us but a nice shot of the TT. See the tiny people on the other side?     Photo: GMARA

Reaching the TT early had its pros and cons: it was good that there was no wait/bottleneck to get on the ropes, but the Vermont Smoke & Cure bacon was not ready yet (!!) and no other teams were around to observe. This comes into play soon.

We individually zipped across, got out of our climbing gear, and continued on foot for the fourth leg, consisting of 2 CPs (17 and 18) off trail, southwest of the main Bolton area. We had spot-on navigation for these 2 points and had caught the frontrunners; we were just descending from CP18 when we ran into them. "It's a snowshoe leg" one of them yelled to us. A quick check of the course instructions verified this. Oh s%&t.  We stopped and put on our snowshoes and continued on to TA4 in relative silence, each considering the consequences of this error.

I was almost sure we had been told that we were continuing on foot after the TT and I failed to double check the instructions. Being at the TA alone, there was no one else putting on snowshoes to indicate otherwise and, unluckily, none of the race staff we were chatting with noticed we were leaving on foot. We reported our mistake to race staff at the next TA and continued on in...snowshoes.

Although there was little, if any, advantage gained, we had violated a rule and knew that, justifiably, we would be penalized.  Expecting that we would have to absorb a significant time penalty, we knew we'd need to hammer the remainder of the race.

Nick, steamy (from the wrist up)          Photo: GMARA

Photo: GMARA

The next leg was only 3 CPs but involved ascending to the top of the 3000' north ridge and a long loop back to race HQ on backcountry trails. There was some nice scenery from the ridgetop including stunning vistas from Harrington's View, the site of CP20. We took a couple minutes here to eat and soak in the views before continuing.  After some technical descending (not sorry to be off skis here!) we grabbed the final CP of the main course (21) and headed back to race HQ at the nordic center.

Ascending to the ridgetop on Goat Path between CP 19 and CP 20.

Harrington's View. Great spot for CP 20!

Frozen pizza with a view. Bolton's alpine trails to the south behind us.

This year, if you finished the main course early, you had the option of heading out on another loop to pick up a different 10-point combination of the 5 CPs from the first leg.  There were 4 total different combinations possible, including the one we already had done in the first leg; therefore a max of 3 additional loops. All snowshoeing. Each completed loop was worth 2 hrs of subtracted time. It was 11:45. We wanted to go after everything we could in order to counteract the penalty we were expecting. We completed one loop in about an hour and felt strong. We completed a second loop and were bonking a bit, arriving back at HQ at 1:40. The only bonus "loop" remaining was an out-and-back to CP1, a couple km away and 800ft vert up. We were tired but thought we probably had enough time to get it done and return by the hard cutoff time of 3:00, as long as there were no nav issues. The team whom we had been chasing had decided to call it a day after 2 loops, so we had a glimmer of hope if we could make quick work of this final push.

Navigation committee. Incandescent brain power occurring here. Microvascular surgeons aspire to this level of focus.     Photo: GMARA

With the clock ticking in our heads, we gave it our all on the ascent to CP1, lost about 5 minutes at the top getting the CP, and then hauled ass back down to the finish line at about 2:45.

Adventure racing is awesome and when the race is over, not adventure racing is awesome too.  We could finally take off the snowshoes and sit down for a bit, enjoying the sunshine and watching the happenings at the finish line.  Then showers, a beer, a nap (Nick) and some chatting with racers before heading down to the Ponds for the banquet.  After some free IPA (thanks Zero Gravity!) and more chatting, we were informed that we would be receiving a penalty of one CP rather than a time penalty. Ouch. A tough judgement but we understood the decision and certainly empathized with race management's position of having to adjudicate a situation like this.

They made us drink free local fresh IPA afterward.             Photo: GMARA

Ironically, the other team that cleared everything was also unranked (after losing a teammate early and continuing as a 2-man team). They were a little faster than us in this.  Their team leader Thorin seems to be some kind of winter-AR savant, essentially winning his first 2 attempts at the Frigid.  Following the division winner announcements, the good folks at GMARA acknowledged our efforts and even presented gear prizes for our unofficial achievements. Another great day racing in Vermont. We'll be back.

Final stats (averaging our 3 different elevation readings)

22.7 mi, 5900ft elevation gain, 9 hours 41 minutes.
GPS track