'CP Tracker' Nationals

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

With a course designed by Gravity Play Sports, and a venue in and around the Martian wonderland of Moab, Utah, the inaugural Checkpoint Tracker Adventure Racing National Championship wrapped up last weekend, on October 30, 2010. The endurance-sports freakshow featured 178 competitors divvied up as solo racers and on about 50 teams. Kayaking, riverboarding, trekking, mountain biking, climbing, and navigating were all part of a 110-mile multisport course through the desert, across Moab’s famous slickrock domes, and into the mountainous terrain above the town.

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Scenes from the 2010 Checkpoint Tracker Adventure Racing National Championship

A $10,000 cash prize purse was split among the top three teams, which were not officially announced by the race organization until a few days after the race ended, on November 3rd. The winners — and most competitors in the event — braved a 350-foot Tyrolean traverse, whitewater “swimming” (on riverboards), and a nonstop, sleepless course that had a time cutoff of 28 hours.

The four-person Team Odyssey Adventure Racing-IMONPoint.org, including racers Shane Hagarman, Mark Lattanzi, Jennifer Moos and Charlie Roberts, were crowned the winners of the Checkpoint Tracker race, which was billed as an alternative National Championship event for the sport of adventure racing this year. (The competing, and traditional, National Championship race, the USARA Adventure Race National Championship, was in Hidden Valley, Penn., in mid-October. Gear Junkie covered that race here: http://gearjunkie.com/usara2010.)

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Entrance to race HQ near Moab

The winners of the Checkpoint Tracker event received $5,000 in cash and a load of gear from Hi-Tec, Tech4o, SOG Knives & Tools, and MyTopo.com. The second- and third-place teams — Team DART-nuun-SportMulti and Team Gore-Tex — respectively won $3,000 and $2,000 plus custom gear packages.

First place Team Odyssey Adventure Racing-IMONPoint.org crossed the finish line at 5:19am last Saturday after 21 hours and 19 minutes of race time. Two other squads — Team Osprey Packs and Team YogaSlackers — had actually blazed through the finish line more than two hours earlier that morning, completing the entire course and believing they had handily taken first (Osprey Packs) and second (YogaSlackers) in the race. But an interpretation of the rules during one section of the race resulted in significant penalties to Osprey Packs and YogaSlackers, eventually sending the teams back to 7th and 10th places overall.

“We were dumbfounded with the penalty,” said Jason Magness, captain of Team YogaSlackers. Magness’ team, as well as Team Osprey, took an alternate (though not shorter) route through one section of the race course. “We had clarified the strategy with a race volunteer on an ambiguous rule about the order to obtain checkpoints, but we got punished for our interpretation in the end,” Magness said.

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Checkpoint Tracker racers trek (left) and line up with riverboards at the ready

“After careful consideration of several written protests, the Checkpoint Tracker Advisory Panel deliberated and made a final decision in accordance with the official rules of the course,” said Paul Angell, president of Checkpoint Tracker. “All penalties were assessed in accordance with the official rules, which were written to convey our intent as to how the course was to be run, regardless of which teams were affected and to what extent.”

Despite the disagreements — and disappointment over the penalized ranking — Magness said he “loved the race course.” “It was a beautiful, epic venue, one of the best we’ve raced.” He continued: “The course was almost perfect except for the bottlenecks [long lines] that formed at the ropes.”

Several teams were not happy with the bottlenecks on the course, as the teams were forced to stand and wait as the clock ticked. “It was perhaps not the best idea to have a rogaine section so early in the race lead into a ropes section that had a cutoff,” said Justin Bakken, captain of Team WEDALI, which won the USARA National Championship race in October, but placed 9th in Moab.

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Competitor on 350-foot Tyrolean traverse

But Bakken had more positive than negative points overall. “I think the race as a whole was pretty epic — lots of fun things to do packed into a short, 24+ hour race, including great scenery, ropes, and riding slickrock at night.”

Top 10: Checkpoint Tracker Adventure Racing National Championship
1. IMONPoint.org-Odyssey Adventure Racing
2. DART-nuun-SportMulti
3. Team Gore-Tex
4. Checkpoint Zero
5. Tecnu Extreme/StaphAseptic
6. Verve
7. Osprey Packs
8. Committed
9. WEDALI
10. YogaSlackers

Congrats to all the teams that pulled through. Moab is a tough venue, and the field of competition at the Checkpoint Tracker National Championship was among the toughest ever assembled in one spot to race. Full results from the event are here (PDF document): http://www.checkpointtracker.com/2010-Final-Results.xlsx.pdf

—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com. He wrote recently on the state of adventure racing in the article “An Open Letter To: Adventure Race Directors.”

Posted by Fletcher - 11/05/2010 12:10 PM

While epic and fun, this course/event had several of the issues that you address in your open letter to RDs. Ropes/lines, ambiguous rules, maps (aerial maps for the ‘O’ course in Moab?), mystery/mandatory CPs, clarity (no pre-race meeting, staff & volunteers not always on the same page with info)…This cost our team the ability to even cross the finish line. This was not in line with the caliber of event you expect from CPT, a series finale, and especially a National Championship!

Posted by pat - 11/05/2010 12:20 PM

Isn’t the point of an adventure race to cross all the checkpoints as fast as possible? If they didn’t miss any checkpoints, traveled the same total distance and had an organizer validate them prior to leaving why were the two teams penalized? That doesn’t quite pass the sniff test…

Posted by Jason Magness - 11/05/2010 12:34 PM

Is there a dislike Button for sharing on FB? Not for GJ, but for the CP tracker series? I’ve already been blocked from their FB site and commenting on their own blog…seems there decisions can’t stand up to too much scrutiny. Stay tuned, thoughts soon as I can figure out how to get around this damn 500 word limit….

Posted by jason magness - 11/05/2010 12:46 PM

This race – has been one of the most disappointing in my time as a endurance sports athlete. Because of the flawed and political decision making process, this race is little more than a farce. A few points:

-An advisory panel made up of 4 people that are all benefitting financially (and therefore by definition -NOT impartial) from CPtracker series.
-no pre race meeting
-bottlenecks of over an hour near the beginning of the race
-ambiguous rules, so ambiguous that the CHANGED the rule in question – adding to it in the PDF release of the final results to “clarify” the situation

The only thing that I am sure of is that the race was certainly NOT a accurate representation of any sort of head to head competition between the nations top teams.

Posted by JonB - 11/05/2010 01:04 PM

I wasn’t there so shouldn’t comment about the race.
Instead I’ll comment about how I used to enjoy this sport, competed in over 100 races and thoroughly enjoyed the suck it up, no whining mentality even when things didn’t go our way. Guess that’s changed. Glad I’m done with it…

Posted by jason magness - 11/05/2010 01:18 PM

My thoughts from above in more detail. . .

This race, or more the aftermath of this race, has been one of the most interesting and frustrating periods in my time as a endurance sport athlete. Because of the flawed and political decision making process, this race is little more than a farce. An advisory panel (in a race that is giving away cash prizes and the title of National Champions) made up of four people that are all benefitting financially (and therefore, by definition, NOT impartial) by CPtracker series.

I’d love to say that Osprey and Team YogaSlackers would have been at the top regardless, but after looking at the pictures of the bottlenecks (there were three of them in the first trekking section. . . causing some teams to wait well over an hour), I just have to shake my head.

Paul Angell says in the above article “All penalties were assessed in accordance with the official rules, which were written to convey our intent as to how the course was to be run, regardless of which teams were affected and to what extent.” — yet there was no pre-race meeting or opportunity during the race to clarify the ambiguities in rules.

In a recent email, he suggested that we should have radioed the race director during the event to get confirmation. Ironically, at CP 2, I asked Paul himself, the very rule question that we ended up “violating.” He replied that he did not know the answer, and I should go ask one of the official staff (and he pointed to an EZ-UP tent with two women working the race). I instantly approached them, asked the same question, and was told with confidence and without hesitation that my proposed route was within the rules.

After talking to the racers on the “winning” teams, it comes down to this: They got held up in long frustrating lines at the ropes, and felt that YogaSlackers and Osprey’s route choice was actually shorter (it was actually 1 km longer with more elevation gain — thanks Google Earth!). They complained at the finish (still thinking we’d had an easier time on the course), Paul “fanned the flames” (these words according to one member of the top three), and formed an impromptu advisory committee of the four above-mentioned and least impartial people he could find.

I honestly think that had the panel been made up exclusively of racers from the protesting teams themselves, we’d have had a more universally accepted outcome to this race. The only thing that I am sure of is that the race was certainly NOT an accurate representation of any sort of head-to-head competition between the nation’s top teams.

Posted by andy magness - 11/05/2010 01:28 PM

A good read – illustrates the points in a less personal way.
CPtrackerAnalogy

Posted by scott swaney - 11/05/2010 02:12 PM

Point 1. JonB you had a good point – you weren’t there so you shouldn’t comment. I’m sure we are all impressed by your racing resume though..thanks for sharing.
Point 2. Thank you GJ for posting a report that sort of explains what happened and doesn’t just throw the top two teams under the bus. As part of part of Osprey Packs team I’m pretty sure our team and the Yoga Slacker team would not have been stuck in the log jam at the ropes since the two teams were pushing each other so hard on the slickrock running section. There were many amazing teams and athletes in Moab last week but the pace on that run/ trekkiing section was wicked.

Posted by sherpes - 11/05/2010 08:03 PM

AR events are unique for their multi-sport quality. It is unfortunate that this one came short on quality. Of course, the more complexity gets into an event overall course, the higher probability of course design screw-ups. It is hard to predict what real behavior arises once an event has started, and changing the rules probably was an attempt by the organizers to impromptu correct a flaw they observed was happening during the event. While rogaine events by foot orienteering clubs are foot-only events, they do carry the status of being high-quality events, with a course vetter that verifies the course months in advance, a precise protest process and resolution process. When saying “high-quality”, it means where participants get exactly what they expect, such as clue descriptions and CP placement according to IOF (international orienteering federation). It would have beneficial for this event for allowing the participation of an O club to act as a course helper/vetter.

Posted by Peter Jolles - 11/05/2010 09:44 PM

Jason, I think you’re being a little unfair in your assessment here. As we (Checkpoint Zero) started out on the first trek, we knew we were further behind and realized there might be bottle necks at the rope features. First thing we thought of was heading right to the ropes and getting them done first, but we pulled out the rule book and read it. To us, there was no question what so ever as to the intended, and allowed, route. As it was, we waited less than 15 minutes for the via ferrata, 5 for the traverse, and none for the rappel. ImONPoint and nuun were ahead of us at the via ferrata.

In my opinion, before, during, and after the race, when we read the rules there was never any ambiguity about what points could be gotten in which order. In the first paragraph is says

“All CP’s must be reached in sequential order unless specified otherwise.”

It went on to say “CP2-13 Trekking & Ropes Section” which was the header for that section of the race, and by itself would infer from above to get in order. Underneath the note about crypobiotic soil it says (I copied this directly from my rule book and am posting it for everyone’s reference)

Trekking Rules: – CP4 through CP10 can be reached in any order. – Skipping/Missing any of these CP’s (CP4-10) will incur a 2 hour time penalty for each missed CP. – Choose your route and CP’s accordingly to assure you reach the ropes before the ropes cut-off times.

Then it goes on to Ropes Rules and lists the cutoff times and penalties.

The ONLY points that were allowed in any order were CP4-10. I really don’t know how that could be any clearer. CP 11, the traverse, and CP12, the rappel come after CP10.

The comment about no pre-race meeting is valid and I was surprised that there was none, but if you had a question, why didn’t you ask before the race started? With it being a championship race I would have certainly make the effort to have any questions answered before the race no matter the situation. I’ve tracked an RD down on the start line to get clarification before so it’s not unheard of.

You have admitted you asked a volunteer for advice. Never, in any race I have ever done, have volunteers had the “official” word, or been able to give advice or clarifications on rules. When in question on course and an RD is not there, I have made the volunteer call HQ to clarify. You cannot blame anyone but yourself for that. Sorry.

For the record, I’m fairly sure Checkpoint Zero was the first team to notify one of the official race staff about your route, as we asked what constituted a legal route choice when we got off the trek when we had seen you running in a direction that really didn’t make any sense had one been following the rules. We did that long before the race was decided, so what ever may have transpired later on wouldn’t have changed the face the advisory committee would have convened.

Your argument that the advisory panel have a financial interest doesn’t make any sense to me. They are paying out to the winners no matter what. What interest does Will have in any of the teams? What interest does Ian have? Yak, he could have been impartial had CPZ been moved into the top three, but we weren’t and we gained nothing from moving from 6th to 4th.

In the end, I do think it is a shame that Osprey and Yogaslackers did not come in 1-2. You really did blow everyone else away and I respect that. You were both clearly the strongest teams out there. However, rules were clearly broken. For race officials to look the other way and not enforce rules would be a much greater travesty than what transpired.

If more than the first two teams had made the same route choice, you might have an argument the rules were not clear. As far as I know, that wasn’t the case. To offer some advice, and I mean this with the utmost respect (I’ve been given it before and needed it myself): Be careful what you say, how you say it, and let your past/current/future actions on the course speak for themselves.

I look forward to racing against everyone on the course next year.

Posted by Pat - 11/06/2010 08:46 AM

Herein might lie the issue. I read the rules as you posted and think they can be interpreted the way the two winning teams did.

I think the assumption by either side of the issue that it is clear would be incorrect and that the organizers probably did a really poor job with this.

Posted by jason - 11/06/2010 10:04 AM

Peter- thanks for your comments, and i hope you also know how much we respect your team. Your selfless assistance in abu dhabi last year still stands as one of the highlights of my racing career.
In regards to your points, i think the most important to note is that several teams made the same interpretation of the rules (including veteran racer Adrian Crane). Even more important, 6 teams that we know of went back after the tyrol (CP 11) to get more points.

And to further clarify our read of the rules, once a statement is made that (4-10) can be gotten in any order, we read that as saying they were outside of the rule of sequential order, so 4 or 6 etc could be reached anytime…before 11 or after 12.
A few words in the rules : “once reaching CP11, teams may not.return to CP 4-10.” Don’t you find it the least bit interesting that on their final results PDF they added just what i wrote above…especially if they thought it was crystal clear…

Posted by Mark - 11/06/2010 03:56 PM

I do agree, I think the main issue is no race meeting. Had there been a meeting issues could have been cleared up. And had the questions not been asked, then there would be less grounds for complaints. But all things aside I think this was an amazing race with very high quality competition. As I told Yak after the race two words I could describe it was Epic and Brutal. I hope everyone can set aside their diffences and meet again next year in Kentucky. Yoga Slackers, Osprey Packs and all the other west coast teams head east and we can see what happens next year. I know our team Appalachian AR enjoyed racing against the competition and would love to do it again next year.

Posted by andy - 11/06/2010 04:45 PM

Interesting to follow the comments. To make things clear right up front, i’m a member of team yogaslackers. I’ve recently received an email from a racer who said a somewhat similar instance occurred at the 2009 USARA national championships – different teams interpreted rules (even with a pre-race meeting) about ‘riding on pavement’ differently – the rule was intended organizers to only apply outside of the park, but this was not explicitly stated. protests were filed by some teams after they hike-a-biked muddy singletrack and witnessed other teams riding pavement (inside the park) to the finish line. Although this didn’t affect podium places, it did affect several teams’ rankings. In his words, here is the aftermath:

“So when we got to the finish, we protested to Troy Farrar, and he claimed, there was nothing wrong with that. So of course we protested, along with a couple other teams (Alpine shop, and Dart Nuun), and we got blown off. So we (and alpine shop)USA wrote a letter to USARA and explained the situation. They wrote back to both of us with what we felt was a good response, and we accepted it. It didn’t change anything, but we did get an explaination of why that situation occurred, and what they planned to do so it wouldn’t happen again. This was their (summarized) response. They meant any paved roads that were not in a park, if you were in a park, paved roads were fine. When they made the “no paved roads” rule, they were looking at a different part of the course so teams wouldn’t take a highway shortcut back. The idea of people getting mixed up with the interpretation of paved roads didn’t occur to them because they “vetted” the course maps with the race director, and they felt the RD influenced their route choices, so the paved rule situation never came up. They said they made a mistake by not doing a completely separate map check, and that in future races, they will not allow the RD to influence their interpretations of the rules while they are looking over the maps from a racer’s perspective. (this related experience got way longer than I thought)” [now back to my thoughts]

As frustrated as i am/was about the decision that CP tracker made, what i’m more frustrated with, and what will give me pause about attending future CP tracker events is the way the whole thing has been handled – the response (or lack there of) from CP tracker to our inquiries or attempts at communication, and the fact that there seems to be a profound opportunity to discuss openly some of the issues that were at play, admit our roles in them (for example several posters have noted that one should never ask for clarification from race volunteers/staff – this was our mistake, but as far as i can tell, our only one….), and discuss things so as to mend bridges and eliminate these problems from future races.

Posted by andy - 11/06/2010 07:21 PM

Peter – here’s my thoughts on the importance of having an impartial panel for matters like this. In the course of our discussion with Yak he repeatedly made it clear that he was making a decision based on what was best for his business, CP tracker. As a business owner, Paul has interests at stake that might be at odds with the ‘fairness’ of the ruling. This isn’t to say that he wasn’t able to overcome these interests, but it certainly is more transparent and perhaps better for everyone involved to bring impartiality to the process. For example, perhaps paul felt that had he not so heavily penalized osprey and YS, there would have been even more teams in an uproar, angry at a perceived injustice. This is undoubtedly a extremely difficult position for a RD or event director to be in, and any judgements made will always be, in some sense, fairly viewed as critically as being somehow biased. it’s better, i think, to have a panel of people that know enough about the event/venue who are able to hear all the facts and then make a decision. I think this is what jason meant when he was talking about financial interest. Cheers.

Posted by Daniel Staudigel - 11/07/2010 01:41 AM

Something important to me in these whole proceedings is why race rules are important. When I read and interpret rules – I try to see what the purpose behind them is. I think they fall into three categories – safety, logistics, and fairness. We didn’t violate fairness or logistics (our route was slightly farther, etc.) , but it could be seen as less safe. A.R.‘s are traditionally human-powered, mentally challenging feats of endurance. Part of the challenge is often route choice. If there are no explicit rules or reasons for doing a section in some order – I interpret them to be as allowing as much route choice as possible, because route choice is fun and important! Looking back on it, the course was designed, pretty clearly, to have people exit the first foot section by the rappel, as it was the safest way to exit the mesa. This was not clear from the satellite photos we got, and so it didn’t even occur to us that that might be the idea. RD’s, please tell us about your safety and logistical concerns in the rulebook – we read them!

Posted by jason - 11/07/2010 02:40 PM

I’ve tried to post this on the CPtracker forum several times, but it has yet to receive moderator approval. Here is Travis Macy’s letter written to race directors shortly after the event, before final decisions were made. Every time I read this, I am baffled still at the final outcome.

Dear Race Directors,

Making challenging decisions that affect the well-being of people you have come to know and appreciate must be one of the most trying aspects of directing and organizing races. On Saturday after the race, you were under a great deal of pressure to use a small period of time to make a tough decision that could possibly impact your professional and financial well-being in the future. Needless to say, that’s a tough position to be in. This in mind, I’m glad that you wisely stated, Paul, that the results given at the awards ceremony were classified as preliminary at that point (the same results are currently posted online at http://gravityplay.com/checkpointtracker/CPTresults.pdf through a link titled “Preliminary Results”).

Since our last conversation, I have learned through discussions with other teams and information presented at http://gravityplay.com/checkpointtracker/CPTresults.pdf that penalties totaling two hours were awarded to teams that did not visit CP11, CP12, or participate in either ropes section. I am writing to request that our participation in the ropes sections and CP11/12 be voided, resulting in a two hour penalty and recoginition of visiting CP8, CP6, and CP5. Race staff at CP11 told us that we could return to what you have called a “separate, identifiable trekking section” after completing the ropes. You have determined that this information provided by your staff was incorrect. This in mind, voiding a ropes section and essentially assuming that we never left the trekking section makes much more sense than assuming that we did the ropes, spent a number of hours wasting time, navigated back to steep terrain above Corona Arch instead of walking down a canyon to the road, and failed to visit CPs 8, 6, and 5 anytime throughout the process. I have not discussed this request with Team 495, YogaSlackers, but I hope that their position would be treated similarly.

As you reflect on the possibilities, you may or may not want to consider the following:
• This is an isolated issue that impacts the results of a single race. Weighing heavily the possible implications for the “future of the sport” or participant numbers in an adventure racing series is grossly inappropriate.
• Knowing that clear, on-site instructions from staff hired by the race director may not be truly reliable and could potentially result in penalties would make me think carefully about the races I choose to participate in due to ethical and safety concerns. This may or may not be true for other racers. To be clear here, the race staff at the tyrolean traverse told me, without question, that traveling to CP8 and other trekking checkpoints after completing the ropes and CPs 11 and 12 would be within the rules. Knowing that our route choice was within the rules, we decided at that time to traverse and punch CP11.
• Based on conversations with other teams, my perception is that a number of people felt very awkward about moving into podium positions due to a penalty based on a race strategy that did not create an advantage. I know that receiving a “victory” or top result in that way would not feel fulfilling for me.
• Does it really make sense that a team which completes all trekking checkpoints plus two ropes checkpoints and two ropes activities should be penalized six hours when teams that failed to visit two ropes checkpoints and complete two ropes sections were penalized two hours? Should a team “win” a race when the first-place team’s route in question follows the instructions of race staff and clearly does not result in any advantage, let alone a difference of two hours and 17 minutes, which is the difference in actual finishing time?

As you know, e-mail is an impersonal way to handle a sensitive issue such as this one; I have chosen this medium simply to include a number of people in the conversation. Starting a long discussion thread is not our intent, and this is the last e-mail that you will receive from our team about this issue.

As the official race director, rule-writer, and staff-organizer for this event, Will, the final decision is yours to make and communicate. Thanks in advance for your time and care in considering this decision after you have had some time to wrap things up in Moab and spend some time with your kids at home. I would very much appreciate your response in a phone call sometime after the middle of this week.

In my opinion, this is the best course yet created by the Adventure Xstream. On a personal level, I hope to be able to remember the experience fondly.

Sincerely,

Travis Macy

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