by Carrie Adams
The rain hadn’t let up in hours. Mike Morris checked his watch again as darkness started to fall. He and the three other members of his team were two days into a three day Adventure Race in Maine, had paddled nearly 75 miles that day, and they had a five mile portage to the next checkpoint looming ahead. As if that weren’t enough, their canoe cart had broken so that meant their heavy canoes and gear would be carried the five miles to their next checkpoint (CP) . It was a bad omen for Morris and his team, who was new to the sport at the time. All he could think was, “Cold, raining, cold, raining.”
When they finally got to the next checkpoint, Morris and his team threw their boats in the water, paddled to inlet to what they believed was the next CP, the rain still fell heavy and cold. Something was wrong. They scanned the area but saw no checkpoint. So, they began the “go in circles and cross your fingers” approach in hopes that they would stumble upon the CP.
Then they retraced their steps, attempting to confirm their position on the map they’d spent all night before the race plotting. By midnight they were colder, wetter, frustrated, and a bit delirious for not sleeping for two nights prior. Their only option was to lie down under their canoes, wrap up in tarps, and sleep. When they awoke it was nearly 5 AM and they were all shivering uncontrollably they needed to move. Lucky for them they had daylight on their side for the checkpoint search. But they still had no luck.
Morris and his team got in the water and paddled to all the inlets in the area for the next five hours double checking their location. They took breaks only to eat, pee in their wetsuits, and finally call the Race Director (RD) on the satellite phone to make sure that the race organizers didn’t get worried and send out the rescue team.
But when it was noon and they had made no progress, they had no option but to go back to the map to confirm the checkpoint they had plotted earlier (in most Adventure Races, or AR’s you have to plot the checkpoints yourself on your map). Stunned and frustrated, they realized they were one grid off and had been searching for the CP in the wrong spot. After plotting it correctly, they were on their way, hours wasted being lost.
Morris and his team, were “short coursed”, meaning they were allowed to continue racing despite having missed mandatory cut-off times. They ultimately finished on a shorter length course earning a finish time but were ineligible for prizes and they earned no ranking for all their trouble. They did learn a valuable lesson about course plotting. As Morris puts it, “We spent the entire winter/spring training for this race and had wasted it (and hundreds of dollars) because we were morons.”
Pay Attention to Course Markings
Spartan Courses are marked well, but you can still miss arrows and tape if you aren’t vigilant or if you become distracted during the longer running segments. Our recent Vermont Beast (and Ultra Beast) course was marked with over 10,000 feet of marking tape and there were over 400 course arrows placed by our crew, but folks still got lost, most notably when they took an existing mountain bike trail up the mountain that wasn’t part of the course instead of following the arrow down the mountain.
“It was a well-worn path so my brain told me to follow it,” said one Ultra Beast racer who ended up doing an extra six miles. “I saw the marker on the second loop after I figured out where I’d gone off track. Whoops.”
Morris, Race Director for Spartan Race and experienced Adventure Racer is no stranger to being lost. “I’ve been lost too many times. Not including the races where I had to navigate with a map and compass. Most of the times I got off course though were my fault,” says Morris. “Once I was trying to adjust my music player and blew right by a turn. I was pretty green at racing and just kept running thinking the course markings would resume. Well… they didn’t. I went a few extra miles during that race.”
Don’t Just Follow the Herd
Never assume that the person in front of you knows where they are going – “herd mentality” or a momentary distraction can lead a racer off track easily. Just because a whole group is moving one direction it doesn’t mean it is the right direction.
“I’ve been lost and just followed the people in front of me,” explains Morris. “I figured if the entire pack was running this way then I was OK. All of a sudden the entire group was turning around. “I quickly learned that during off-road races it’s my responsibility to watch out for my own well-being on the course… nobody else. “
What if you DO get lost?
Don’t Panic. If you’ve gone a ways and are not seeing any trail markings, you could be lost, but the reality is that you may not be as far off or out as you think you are. Stop moving and use your senses to get oriented. Look for trail markings in all directions, listen for familiar sounds, and if that doesn’t give you a direction to follow then attempt to backtrack to your original location where you may have gone off-course. With 350,000 racers and counting, we haven’t lost a racer yet! We have course sweepers, full medical, and rescue crews on site for every race as well. We won’t leave a Spartan behind.
So don’t sweat it or try to over plan on our courses on race day. Have fun, pay attention and you’ll finish as you intended without any extra FREE miles.