Saturday, November 13, 2010


On Friday night Lisa and I joined some friends at the Boulder Theater for Warren Miller's WIntervention premiere.
The stoke factor was high at the theater, with sponsor shwag give-aways and a bar in the middle of the crowd. The movie featured the usual Warren Miller jaw-dropping cinematography in some of the most spectacular terrain on Earth: Colorado, Tahoe, Antarctica, Georgia, Austria, and New Zealand.

Needless to say people in town are itching for the ski season to start. After spending the last five winters living at the beach in Southern California, I am seriously looking forward to getting back in the mountains this winter! I may not be able to surf in the morning and ski in the afternoon anymore, but that hardly ever happened anyway to be perfectly honest.

What's on tap? Back Country skiing hut trips, snowshoeing, nordic skiing, maybe some winter multisport races...The secret sauce of the curiously dominant athletes from Colorado and Canada is not altitude, but instead putting the bike away for several months and substituting skiing. Yes, it is true, my sea level friends.

While their competitors are noodling around "building base" over the winter, the Snow People are bleeding out of their eyeballs with intensity on their skis and/or climbing on the skis for hours at high altitude. Last winter I had time for continuous 400 mile bike weeks, even hitting 500...not anymore! Balancing work, a long commute, working in the mountain towns and family means it has to be about Quality more than Quantity this "out season". I am looking forward to new challenges in new places and working on specific skills more than logging mega-hours of the same old training.

Quality Time in the mountains...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bottlenecked: Game Over, Man!

Above Video shot by and featuring our friends from Seattle, Team VERVE at CheckpointTracker National Championships in Moab...In the video you can see my team literally lying down on the ground with our feet up, where we were for an hour (at the 2:10 mark you can see me with my red shoes propped up) as we waited for the Tyrolean Traverse bottleneck to clear. Absolute nightmare for any team.

Why would a team be sitting down for an hour waiting in the middle of an adventure race?

The teams ahead of us at the time were also waiting to get on one of the lines. They had skipped one or more checkpoints, which were optional, in order to get to the 300 foot tyrolean traverse across a canyon chasm before the 6:00pm cutoff. Our team had "cleaned the course" and hit every checkpoint with a 1 hour mistake that we were barely able to recover from. In fact, we made it to the tyrolean only 4 minutes before the cutoff. Although we were maybe the only team present that had cleared the course thus far (perhaps Verve did as well?) we were not allowed to go in front of these other teams who had skipped sections.

While we waited for an hour, the top 3 teams ahead of us were riding in a paceline at 20+ mph on their mountain bikes towards downtown Moab in daylight, having left the nearby trek-bike transition while we sat motionless as the sun set. For the record, the view was spectacular! It is very tough to beat Moab for a location for any endurance race or event.

What is even crazier than waiting for an hour in a race is the personnel at the tyrolean told us that on the other side we would easily find the rappel, and rather quickly. According to the map (satellite imagery maps were a novelty) the rappel was less than a mile from the trek-bike transition. We looked for the rappel for 30 minutes, and two different race volunteers (who unbeknownst to our team had just taken the rappel down) told us "you can't go this way" or "you need to follow that shelf"...of course we thought they were telling us how to get to the rappel safely, and they assumed we were already told the rappel was already gone. Awful.

We continued down the canyon until we hit the riverside paved road that took us back to the transition area, finally realizing that the rappel was non-existent. Then at the TA we find that we would be penalized an hour for "not doing" the rappel. Insult to injury.

Knowing the tremendous caliber of the teams ahead of us, such as DART-nuun/SportMulti, Osprey Packs, Yoga Slackers, etc., we were frustrated but invigorated to put the pedal to the metal to try to make up time. You never know what can happen in an adventure race! In this race, that certainly turned out to be the case...

So our earlier mistake of an hour + an hour waiting for the tyrolean (58 minutes, to be precise), + 30 minutes going back and forth in a canyon looking for an imaginary rappel + a one hour penalty meant we were had lost not just a "recoverable" one hour, but 3.5 hours! In a 24 hour adventure race that is an absolute eternity. We rallied and continued to move well almost mistake-free for the rest of the race, but it was too late.

The one and only reason I am recounting this story (for the record, not a whiny lament) is so race directors can read it (possibly) and take this situation into consideration when designing future courses. Directing an adventure race or any multisport event is a difficult and time-intensive job, and can be quite complicated. When you factor in teams skipping ahead to checkpoints, teams protesting against others tactics, and course design flaws, things can get dodgy very quickly.

Unfortunately, this new optional CP format is increasingly popular with race directors and even some racers, and more of the norm than the exception today. Race directors today have switched the emphasis in many cases from racing to participating and hence now create events designed to allow everyone to 'finish'. Although I recognize this may be the best offering to attract new athletes to the sport of adventure racing, I am not personally interested in any ultra endurance event that everyone knows they are going to be able to finish, even if it means skipping up to half of the course. Personally I find this to be antithetical to the concept of adventure racing.

Much like a hard drug user or other "sensation seeker", I require an increasingly intense and/or long challenge, preferably one that puts the odds against me. This applies to any endurance event, from a 2k ocean swim race where I know I will be trounced by the "real" swimmers, to a 20k TT where I hope to break my own PR or a 200k 24 hour adventure race.

You can only dig deep-really deep- when forced by competition and a sense of white-hot urgency. Folks who race bikes know this. This is why I am attracted to events that scare the crap out of you and require you to dig deep just to finish. We race against ourselves, our demons that whisper excuses in our ear as our limbic system convinces us to quit. Defeating these demons, even more so than the competition, is how you grow.

Adventure Racing isn't for everyone, and now it is trying to be. Bring back the hairy, scary races that NOT everyone finishes. Boo Hoo. Too bad. Races that eat their young. That's what I want. I want the finish line to MEAN something...that I completed the journey, ran the gauntlet, passed the test. Every adventure race certainly does not have to be this way. There will always be races for beginners or folks who just want to "play" more than race their guts out. There are options for both, but increasingly more for the latter and less for the former.

Contrast this new culture shift to the Barkley Ultramarathon and 60 mile Fun Run. Only 9 people out of 700 entrants have finished...ever. I do not believe they are planning on changing their race anytime soon. Apples to Oranges, sure.

While many are quite content to participate in these newer versions of adventure races, I will choose races that offer a "point to point" adventurous journey, and courses designed to prevent teams from skipping ahead of their competition. To me it is just a matter of satisfaction. When my team was undefeated in 2008, many of the season's races were ROGAINE format. Our navigators were co-North American ROGAINE Champions, as well as very strong athletes, which I believe gave us a tremendous advantage in this race format.

While I love spending time with my teammates and winning races for our sponsors, the joy or sense of accomplishment just was not there in ROGAINE races compared to point to point races when crossing the finish line...certainly not compared to crossing the finish line at a nearly suicidal insane race like the Baja Travesia. I was deathly ill and mostly worthless in that race, but making it to the finish line somehow with my teammates is something I will never, ever forget.

Some adventure races on the radar include next May's new addition to the Adventure Racing World Series schedule: APEX: Alpine Expedition Switzerland Race, put on by veteran race director (best known for directing Untamed New England/Untamed Switzerland Adventure Races) Grant Killian. TRIOBA in Washington state is also a great option for those who want a capital A, capital R "Adventure Race". Outside of AR I plan on entering more solo races that promise to brutally crush my dreams.

I much prefer the odds for success, for even finishing, to be Against Me.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Curious Rise of ROGAINE Courses in Adventure Racing.

Dear Adventure Racer Family,

As Guest-Blogger on this month, I am tackling ROGAINE-format (orienteering, get checkpoints in any order, tally "points" at the finish line) courses in adventure racing. I am opposed to the concept, as I view an adventure race as a journey from Point A to Z. Nomenclature and semantics fog the definition, but Point to Point, Loop, Clover Leaf, whatever you want to call it...sequential order of checkpoints from Start to Finish is what I personally prefer as a "traditionalist" in AR. A good course should be designed to challenge racers' decision making and navigation skills, offering several options along the way that may or may not be faster: Bushwack or take the longer, but faster trail? There are myriad reasons why race directors decided to change to an orienteering format over the last several years, but my argument is simply that there is another way...

The rise of orienteering's influence on AR has meant that over the last few years more races have been designed as ROGAINE (orienteering acronym describing typically longer orienteering events: “Rugged Outdoor Group Activity Involving Navigation and Endurance"), or modified ROGAINE, which means that checkpoints are spread across a "course", and the team that hits the most, sometimes in any order, at the finish line with the fastest time wins sometimes with a fixed time frame such as 24 hours. Skipping some or many checkpoints becomes a strategy for teams. Some teams may even skip half of the checkpoints, only to reach the finish line as..."finishers". This may work in orienteering, but Adventure Racing is NOT Orienteering in my opinion.

An event that calls itself a Race, but invites athletes to show up at the start line without even EXPECTING to FINISH the course is far from what I would consider a "race". Call me crazy. This is just my humble opinion as an "old school" adventure racer who started in the mid-1990s. I am totally aware that there are many out there who enjoy and even prefer this ROGAINE format. They don't want to do the whole course, or maybe in a few cases are not capable. I also am aware that many of these athletes came into the sport more recently than I, and this is all they have experienced. This is normative to them, and they see AR as a multisport orienteering event, or ROGAINE.

In recognition of the myriad challenges Race Directors face, the prime directive for them in my opinion is to design a course that recognizes the bell curve. A course should be do-able in 24-30 hours by the vast majority of teams. Some RDs complain that the top teams will then finish in under 20 hours, maybe even 12 in some cases if the majority finish in 24-28. I ask: How many teams are racing for the win? Not many. If there are 30 teams at the start line, there may be a few that will "blast through the course" without incident, racing for the win. Most of these teams care first and foremost about winning, not spending an extra 4 hours on a course orienteering in the woods, zig zagging this way and that.

The bottom line is my heart is broken that adventure racing has become-in some instances-a race that encourages teams to toe the starting line knowing they will skip checkpoints or entire sections. Who would start an ultramarathon, Ironman, ultra mtb race, sailing regatta, or any other competition planning on NOT doing the whole thing? This concept is native to orienteering, not adventure racing. I am all about inclusion and attracting as many people as possible to AR, however possible. In the past, finishing a race was not a guarantee in an adventure race. Far from it! I did one race in 2000, the Mega Dose in Virginia that had 60 or so teams. None made it to the finish line under the cutoff. None. My team was the only 4 person team to finish the race, and thus "won", after 88 hours of racing across 250 miles. The other teams all dropped out along the way, save for a couple duos and soloists. Every team knew at the start line that the race was almost a "Mission: Impossible".

Perhaps my "vote" will be meaningless, but I am too passionate about competing fiercely and winning races based on my hard work, blood, sweat and tears put into training. The commitment it takes to prepare to compete for the win involves enormous sacrifices and opportunity costs. I enjoy the training, and it is a lifestyle, but if I am standing at the start line with my teammates, knowing we have all made the same deep commitment to our preparedness, I want a rewarding JOURNEY from A to Z, and our win or loss to be based on fitness, teamwork and skill. Strangely, my opinion is in the minority today in adventure racing.

This is just one guy's preference and opinion. It should go without saying that my CPT blog was written purposefully as disruptive leadership, a splinter under AR's fingernail to provoke thought and an emotional response throughout the wider elicit a reaction. This reaction was over 100 comments in the first 48 hours, and over 300 votes in's online poll (Poll was ROGAINE FORMAT ARs: Good, Bad, Maybe).

This is just the beginning of the conversation, and I invite everyone to contribute their own opinions and offer solutions. For racers new to the sport, I invite you to read Martin Dugard's "Surviving the Toughest Race on Earth" and other accounts of the wild and wonderful world of adventure racing in the early to late 1990s. The book is fantastic and might acquaint some with both the Adventure and Racing parts of Adventure Racing. Both were unbelievably intense, and regrettably unimaginable to today's incarnation of the sport.

The #1 goal for the blog was to start a conversation with some controversy. It worked! I am stoked so many people have chimed in and opined on not just the original vs. rogaine debate but many other issues surrounding adventure race course design, cutoffs, short-coursing, etc. Hopefully this forum will continue to stay active and the racer-RD communication floodgates will stay open for the betterment of the sport, regardless of your preferred 'evolved' iteration.

In Adventure,