Competing against 21 other teams of all ages, 14-year-old Ian Dunlap put on a solo orienteering clinic and nabbed first place at the 2022 Mission Lite Adventure Race.
Like triathlons or ultras, adventure races demand a varied skillset and sustained focus. Although there’s no standardized format for adventure racing, most events involve human-powered travel on foot, bicycle, and canoe.
Races take place in multiple segments, where teams of one, two, or three utilize map-and-compass navigation to locate waystations or checkpoints. For every checkpoint they reach in a preset timeframe, teams earn points. In the case of a points tie, the fastest team takes the glory.
Mission Lite Adventure Race
On May 7, Ian Dunlap participated in the Mission Lite — a 4-hour race hosted by Do INdiana Off-road (D.IN.O). Except for 14-year-old Dunlap and three other teams, all competing parties had two or three members.
When the dust cleared, Dunlap had reached nine checkpoints in 3 hours and 48 minutes to earn the top spot on the podium. He finished 12 minutes faster than the next solo racer and a whopping 27 minutes ahead of the second-place team.
Per D.IN.O’s race rules, competitors are allowed to bypass certain segments of the racecourse in exchange for a one-point penalty. The participants don’t know the sequence of the segments beforehand.
Skipping a segment is a risk. Competitors may choose to lose a point in favor of jumping ahead to the segments they feel more confident about.
But Dunlap used the rule to his advantage.
Dunlap’s Strategic Gamble
As the teenager completed the initial cycling segment of the Mission Lite, he made a strategic and improvised decision to skip out on canoeing and sacrifice a point.
“While riding, I saw several teams heading back from the paddle section,” Dunlap told us. “I took a look at the map and it seemed about 3-4 km there and back, which would have taken me almost 2 hours to earn just one point.”
By eschewing the paddling, Dunlap was able to jump ahead to his natural wheelhouse: orienteering. “I’ve been orienteering for about half my life, and I consider this my strongest discipline in adventure racing,” Dunlap said.
Ultimately, the improvised audible came up big for Dunlap — he scored four points in orienteering, which more than made up for his penalty.
According to D.IN.O Race Director Brian Holzhausen, Dunlap’s success in the orienteering segment was a sight to behold. “It’s not just about strategy. It’s a very hilly and tough course,” said Holzhausen. “Ian’s not a slacker. He put in a maximum effort — it was a well-deserved win.”
Though D.IN.O’s races are hosted exclusively in Indiana, adventure races are popping up across the globe. In the U.S., the primary organizing body of adventure racing is the United States Adventure Racing Association (USARA).
D.IN.O’s 4-hour Mission Lite is an entry-level version of the 18-hour Mission Adventure Race. Grown-ups be warned: The 14-year-old plans to compete in the main event next year.