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.”

Team GearJunkie

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.”

Getting lost is something that all racers fear but is always a risk, even on the well-marked Spartan courses.  How can you minimize your risk of getting lost?

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.

 

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by Carrie Adams

mike-morris“Anyone can get off the couch tomorrow and do a Spartan race,” says Spartan Race Director Mike Morris. “Sure, you might suffer, but the feeling you get when you cross the finish line is going to bring you back again and again.”

Morris, who selects venues and designs Spartan Race’s unique courses, knows what it feels like to cross the finish line after an arduous race. He’s a competitive adventure racer who has competed in multi-day races around the world. Adventure racing, for those who don’t know, is a sport in which teams of two to four people hike, run, mountain bike, and paddle for upwards of nine days across hundreds of miles. They navigate their own way through forest and wilderness, from checkpoint to checkpoint, eating and sleeping when necessary.

Since 2003, Morris has competed in Adventure Races in Vermont, Florida, Missouri, California, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Canada, Georgia, and Costa Rica, and has raced in the yearly United States Adventure Racing Championships three times. He’s no stranger to adversity on the trail. In one memorable instance, he developed knee tendonitis eight hours into a three-day race through the mountainous terrain of Vermont and New Hampshire. Every time he bent his leg, pain shot through his body.

Did he consider quitting?

“Of course,” he says. “The pain was really bad. But I knew I couldn’t let my team down, even though we had to go a lot slower because of my injury.”

Adventure racing can involve getting soaked in 40-degree pouring rainstorms, meeting up with alligators while paddling through Florida swamps, and at times even falling asleep while hiking or biking due to sheer exhaustion. You rely utterly on your teammates for support and guidance, which is why it’s important to compete with people you know well, according to Morris.

Morris knows that not everyone can afford the commitment of thousands of dollars it takes to buy a mountain bike and travel to compete in adventure races. He sees Spartan Race as an alternative that is accessible to everyone. “Spartan Races are an opportunity for people to experience something different that might intimidate them, but ultimately will be that much more rewarding if they finish,” he says.

Morris believes that absolutely everyone can benefit from racing. “I enjoy the challenges of endurance racing,” he says. “It all comes down to mindset, which in more challenging and longer races is equally, if not more important than physical abilities. I always say, ‘If I can do it, anyone can do it.’”

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A Spartan Race White Paper

By Joe Desena, co-founder, Spartan Race, Inc.

Nov. 9, 2011

thebeast-61As the Spartan Race hits the 110,000 competitor mark in 2011, with over 625,000 Facebook likes, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the difference between an obstacle race and its forerunner, adventure racing. The two are often used interchangeably to the detriment of race organizers and competitors alike. And we should know: our founders are former adventure racers themselves. We’ve paddled with gators, walked through swamps in the jungle for hours, and have been lost at night with just tree bark for food.

Technically, when it comes right down to it, the only similarities that obstacle racing has with adventure racing is the running component and the use of obstacles. What might not be as apparent is that both events force you to overcome unpredictable and non-traditional challenges that you would not find in many types of “traditional” endurance events, yielding a greater sense of satisfaction, reward, and much better stories to share for months, if not years after.

For example, in adventure racing you might have to paddle a three-person kayak on thethebeast-20 third day of a race on six hours of total sleep in the pitch dark across a 15-mile lake, battling nausea, literally going in circles (and not knowing it), experiencing poor nutrition and hydration, and challenged team dynamics. In an obstacle race you might have to overcome crawling on your belly uphill under 100 yards of razor-sharp barbed wire in the mud. Both are completely different experiences but the outcome is the same: reward for getting through a challenging moment.

desena_lgHowever, let’s be honest here: certain adventure races involve a lot more hardship and deprivation than a two-hour obstacle race. Adventure races are tough and only feasible for the top 5% of obstacle racers. The requirement to be proficient at navigating, mountain biking, kayaking, running, and operating on very little sleep makes adventure racing not for everyone.

That’s where obstacle racing comes in. Like a steeplechase for humans, obstacle racing, often compared to “mud runs,” forces runners to race a course that mixes road racing, trail running, and cross country running with a variety of obstacles throughout the course to test endurance, strength, speed, and dexterity. Obstacle races vary in distance and challenge level from three mile races to near half marathon distances with race organizers generally traveling the country setting up race venues in large cities and encouraging athletes of all types to participate. 

Runners are often unprepared for impending obstacles that may include going over, under or through various challenges that add additional physical and mental effort. The obstacles run from the traditional – crawling through mud, scaling walls, crawling under walls, and traversing balance beams to the non-traditional: carrying buckets of water, jumping fire, solving puzzles, walking tight ropes, and swimming under wooden planks. 

Obstacle racing is popular among runners and non-runners alike as competitors must adapt to new and differing elements in the race itself and the training regime for preparing for such events. 

Nothing against adventure racing mind you, but a well-designed obstacle race is designed to challenge, to push, to intimidate, to test and even to break those brave enough to try. “Fun run” doesn’t apply here. It’s about being uncomfortable, overcoming obstacles and finding out what’s possible when what you expect of yourself is everything.

Spartan Race, based in Pittsfield, Vermont, plans 35 obstacle races in 2012 in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. For more information: spartanrace.com, spartanrace.tv, Facebook.com/spartanrace.

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by Beth Connolly

What would you do if you were alone in the middle of the densest woods in Maine and the battery on your headlamp died? In the midst of a competitive adventure race (involving paddling across lakes and towing canoes through the woods), you bushwhacked off-trail to find the next checkpoint, which had eluded your team.  You left your teammates behind on the trail, with a heavy cargo of canoes—and your spare batteries.

It happened to Brian Duncanson, Spartan Race CEO.  During one memorable adventure race, he and his teammates paddled across seven lakes, carrying their canoes with them as they walked through the woods that separated each lake from the next.  They searched unsuccessfully for the next checkpoint, until they were too burdened by the canoes to go further.  So Duncanson set out on his own to find it.

He was alone in the woods without a light or a friend or hope of contacting his team, who were out of earshot–when a member of an opposing team stepped in to help out. Using the light of his opponent’s headlamp, the two men managed to locate the next checkpoint and make it back to the trail, where Duncanson replaced his batteries.

Adventure races, like Spartan Races, are all about cooperation–not only between team members, but also between opposing teams. “There are many times during a race when it becomes advantageous to temporarily cooperate with another team,” Duncanson says.  ”Whenever we’ve found things and not told other teams, it always came back to bite us, because we may need their help down the road.”

Despite close calls like these, Duncanson stays passionate about adventure racing.  “I really like doing different things, and I love being outdoors,” he says.  But “the most interesting thing is the fact that there’s navigation involved.  It’s a mental challenge as well as a physical one, like solving a puzzle.” Adventure racers use only a map and compass to determine their path through wilderness and swampland.  In this way, adventure races are quite similar to Spartan Races: competitors’ creativity and ingenuity are tested, as well as their physical strength and endurance.

For Duncanson, life and career are no different from the extreme challenges and team mentality of adventure races.  He’s been competing in adventure races for the past ten years, and his team was even sponsored by Guinness.  Adventure racing led him to his job at Spartan Race, since he met co-founder Joe DeSena at a race event.  Duncanson’s chosen career, athletic event organization, reflects his commitment to adventure racing as well.

“You’re on a team, and working together,” Duncanson says, whether it’s out in the woods or in the office.  “Different people have different personalities and different strengths.  I see my job as not only organizing race events, but also blending different personalities together.”

Do Spartan Races have anything in common with adventure races?
Duncanson says yes.  ”Number one, it’s about having a new experience and doing something out of the ordinary.  I think that’s what attracts a lot of people to come out and do the events.  You sign up for a 10K and you know what you’re getting into.  Spartan races are something totally different and a little mysterious.”


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