Anatomy of an Adventure Race

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

The checkpoint flag was hidden in a swamp. My shoes were sinking into muck, cattails and reeds spiking overhead in a dank wetland near the Minnesota River. “Any luck in there?” my teammate shouted, inquiring on the search from higher ground.

It was 10a.m., a hot morning in mid July. The Minnesota Orienteering Club’s annual adventure race had kicked off an hour before, releasing 42 teams to hunt and search for flags scattered miles apart. As the third of five events in a local race series, the competition mixed running, biking, and kayaking with a choose-your-own-route challenge through the prairies, woods, and swamps in and around southern Minnesota’s Minneopa State Park.


Racer Darrell Louder trekking in tall grass on the orienteering section. Photographer: Adriaan Greyling
(Click for Adventure Race PHOTO GALLERY)

GPS devices were not allowed. Instead, the teams — most coed squads with two or four people — employed maps and compasses to locate and punch more than 25 checkpoint flags hidden in a tangle of topographic detail.

Adventure racing, an activity characterized by its multi-sport wilderness race courses, has gained popularity in recent years with a diehard demographic of outdoors athlete. More than a decade ago, the Eco-Challenge race and its accompanying reality-TV series put adventure racing on the national radar. Today, it remains a growing activity, with about 50,000 participants nationwide, according to data from the United States Adventure Racing Association in Austin, Texas. The association cites more than 350 adventure races around the country in 2009.

“We have a community of core racers that have given a lot of time to the sport in this state,” said Justin Bakken, a top area racer from Minneapolis with the team WEDALI. Bakken’s team, a fixture at races in the region, finished fourth place in the 2008 National Championships last autumn. Next month, he will navigate for WEDALI in the 10-day Primal Quest Badlands event in South Dakota, where teams will race for hundreds of miles in search of flags and the finish line.


Checkpoint! Flag hidden in a pocket on a cliff. Photographer: Tom Eddy
(Click for Adventure Race PHOTO GALLERY)

At the Orienteering Club’s event near Mankato, Minn., held July 11, the time limit was about seven hours. In general, adventure races range from half-day-long competitions to events like Wild Adventure Race’s annual Fall 24-Hour, held in mid September, which goes non-stop all day and all night in the forest around Duluth, Minn.

Longer events like Primal Quest are called expedition races. In 2006, I raced on Team Bulleit in Primal Quest Utah, which was a sleep-optional ultra-endurance challenge that reeled on for nine days and untold miles through the mountains, deserts, and unending rivers of the region.

At Minneopa State Park, the race began with a foot orienteering section, one of five disciplines of the day. Teams were handed maps a few minutes before the start time. “Remember your bike helmets on this leg,” shouted Pete Curtis, the race director.


Racers paddle off on the kayak section of the MNOC race. Photographer: Adriaan Greyling
(Click for Adventure Race PHOTO GALLERY)

Backpacks loaded with gear are a fixture in the sport. At Minneopa, the complex course included transitions between running, road biking, mountain biking, kayaking, and a “creek walk” section, which involved trudging upstream more than a mile in shallow whitewater.

Racers monitored multiple maps and a set of instructions. The goal was to find and punch two dozen checkpoints in the allotted time, thinking quick, navigating straight, and relying on a race strategy as much as raw physical output and speed.

In tall prairie grass, the first checkpoint was hidden behind a boulder. Teams sprinted off a main trail to find the flag, an orange and white nylon box. Six miles of intricate navigation — including time spent searching in a swamp — led to the mouth of Minneopa Creek. I tightened my shoelaces in anticipation of rushing currents ahead. “Life jackets on,” a race volunteer yelled out.

My team jumped in and waded upriver. Rocks and muck made for uneven footing, a slippery struggle up a stream and into the unknown ahead. In a few minutes, the creek disappeared into a tunnel. Stanley Barton, one of my teammates, took out his headlamp and led the way.


Trekking uphill and out of a gorge. Photographer: Tom Eddy
(Click for Adventure Race PHOTO GALLERY)

We found a flag in the dark depths, and then we pushed back to the light. A racer running ahead slipped on a rock, splashing in the creek with a thud. Upstream, a waterfall roared.

Our bikes were staged above a ravine, ready and waiting for the next section of the race. Later, it was onto kayaks and a shallow river flowing north. Then mountain bikes and the singletrack trails at a ski area close to the park.

Seven hours of effort in the hills and forests around Mankato. Seven hours of rivers and swamps, feet slipping on rocks, getting stuck in the muck. In an adventure race, you pull your shoe out without a thought, and then you trudge on again, unstopping until the end.

—Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.

Posted by ethan - 08/11/2009 07:09 AM

That sounds awesome.

Posted by Evan - 08/13/2009 06:30 PM

I long have wanted to do an adventure race, and I hope to do one in the spring. Right now though, I am in Physical Therapy for Posterior Tibial Tendonitis and I cannot run. Good luck on future races.

Posted by marianne - 08/22/2009 07:53 AM

I discovered Adventure Racing 4 yrs ago at age 58 and am loving it!! It’s an awesome experience! Find a team and go for it!!

Posted by snowmobile rentals Vail - 12/06/2012 02:26 AM

I like this site..Its nice and it gave us lots of ideas..Thanks for sharing great info. on adventures of travels.
snowmobile rentals Vail
http://sageoutdooradventures.com/

Posted by Yoga retreats - 12/06/2012 11:33 PM

Wow really a great post. I like this. I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that.
Yoga retreats
http://billabongretreat.com.au/

Posted by Mountain biking Colorado - 12/08/2012 04:26 AM

I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well.
Mountain biking Colorado
http://eagleoutside.com/

Posted by custom home builders Vail, Colorado - 12/14/2012 04:33 AM

Many thanks for making the sincere effort to explain this. I feel fairly strong about it and would like to read more. If it’s OK, as you find out more in depth knowledge, would you mind writing more posts similar to this one with more information?
custom home builders Vail, Colorado
http://desmondhomebuilders.com/

Posted by Commercial Plumbing Maintenance Agreement - 12/16/2012 11:42 PM

I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well.
Commercial Plumbing Maintenance Agreement
http://www.psivail.com/

Posted by http://www.genemedics.com/is-it-low-t/ - 05/23/2013 11:04 PM

I am come a cross to your site and found it according to my need and demand. I would very much like to hear more from you on this subject. You certainly know how to keep a reader entertained. http://www.genemedics.com/is-it-low-t/

Posted by mickel - 05/25/2013 05:45 AM

Nice information thanks for sharing it..

water jet pack
http://flyingwatersports.com

Add Comment

  1. Add link by using "LinkText":http://google.com