Why I Adventure Race
I have been getting a few emails about adventure racing lately asking why, how and what the heck I am doing. Since I just wrapped up my biggest one to date, venturing into the world of expedition length events, I thought it would be a good time to talk a little bit about why I do them.
I landed in the sport by accident. The first time I even heard the sport existed was in the middle of the 100 Miles of Wild trek in North Dakota in 2013. Simon Donato and I were team mates for the day and he was explaining the years of Eco-Challenge and that he thought I would probably do an adventure race one day. I didn’t even know what he was talking about and from what I understood, it sounded terrible.
The next year, I was asked by an adventure racing friend in Michigan to be a team mate because she just wanted to practice her navigation. I agreed, borrowed a mountain bike and a paddle and hoped for the best. It was an eye opening experience to realize that even though we were not that fast on the water and we struggled with some mechanical issues on the bike, that we finished first place females.
I assumed it would be one of the many endeavours that I try to see what the fuss is about but will never do it again until a fellow Zeal athlete, Brad asked me to try a sprint AR. It was 8 hours of Rogaine racing and I had a good time and we had a good team dynamic. Up until this point, I wasn’t really testing limits or doing anything that truly pushed me that far out of my comfort zone until he asked me to do a 48 hour race in the mountains of Pennsylvania.
Of course I said yes, but I still wasn’t convinced that it would be something I wanted to pursue in the future. I gutted out over those 2 days and had the most meaningful race experience of my life. And then I did another multi-day last fall and was met with the same feelings of exhilaration, exhaustion and accomplishment at the finish line. The levels of pain and fatigue that you need to reckon with in these races is unparalleled so reaching the finish line is a monumental experience.
So WHY do I do these races? Three reasons:
1. For me it is simple. I want to know what my limits are. I love that I still haven’t found them and when I think I have, I reset with some nutrition, an hour of sleep or simply by digging deeper and I am back on track. I have gotten to points where I seriously thought I couldn’t go on any more, but then I found something deep inside that helped me push past that. This deep investigation of what I am truly made of is one of the drivers for me to participate in what has begun to be affectionately called “The Best Damn Sport”.
2. Another reason is that there is so little gratification in the sport. I am competitive but there is something so important about doing something for the journey.
There is not a lot of hardware to show off.
The finish line is often a line in the sand and there might be a couple of people waiting for you at the end if you are lucky.
The support crew on course might be a few brave souls at a transition area that you visit every 8-12 hours.
You rarely hear people begin talking about their placing in an adventure race but rather discussing the race itself.
How their tire flatted 40 hours in.
How they missed that check point despite searching for 5 hours.
How they stumbled across a 24 hour convenience store and had a life affirming Coke at 3 am.
Adventure racing is more about the experience than anything and in my limited experience, is more or less void of the excessive peacocking that you see in competitive road sports.
3. Perhaps most importantly for me, and the crux of this post, is that it is the only sport that I know of where males and females are racing on an equal playing field. I am fiercely competitive, I have a passion for athletics and I work incredibly hard to reach my goals so it is difficult for me to see female athletes in most sports receiving a “thanks for coming out” mentality.
I am fully supportive of all women races and fun runs and events catered to women who are not competitive but are searching for camaraderie in a health journey, but I also am hungry to see more equality of respect and coverage at a competitive level. Some incredible books on this topic are written by some of my female heroes: Daughters of Distance by Vanessa Runs, Rusch to Glory by Rebecca Rusch and The Road Less Taken by Katherine Bertine.
So when I adventure race, I toe the line as an adventure racer, not as a female athlete. I push through days of fatigue, elements and physical and emotional stress alongside my male team mates and I don’t just keep up, I am a contributing member of the team. I do not forget for one moment that I am a female and I work as hard as I can to keep pace, staying strong both physically and emotionally. Arguably, I need to be a stronger athlete than them in order to keep up with them because of science and I train relentlessly in order to ensure I don’t ever let them down.
The men in the sport are beyond welcoming and they are eager to lend gear I am missing, invite me for training sessions and help me perfect my skills. In a race setting, we are reduced to our most elemental states of surviving. They become family and have seen me in a worse state than anyone else and still respect me.
I have fallen in love with adventure racing because it is an equalizing sport and you just become a team of competitors madly searching for a clear path to the finish line. It is the one arena the best teams in the world are coed.
Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat says
Aw Jess I love this post! I remember us having a conversation a while back about your adventure racing, and you said that even though they were the hardest things you’ve ever done, you knew that if you could make it through them then you could pretty much do anything. Your drive and determination is beyond inspiring, and those boys don’t know how lucky they are to have you! 🙂
Thank you so much, Ange! I wasn’t sure if they would stick, but they certainly seem to be here to stay. 🙂
Ange // Cowgirl Runs says
I’m in awe of your ability to push and finish so strong in adventure races.
The thought of being awake for 72 hours kind of makes me want to cry, and I have zero navigation skills, but I’ll never say never, as anytime I do say “never” I somehow end up doing it.
I would not say I am strong all the time – that is for sure!
And never say never is probably the most important thing I have learned in all my years of racing! 🙂