Sunday, April 27, 2008

Albuquerque is a cool place for an Adventure Race!

All those years ago, as I watched the Eco Challenge Adventure Race, I never imagined I would be running a race myself. Yet after last weekend I am able to say that I am one of those who has experienced one! It wasn't a 10 day, 700 mile race like the Eco Challenge (more like 11 miles and 4 hours); but for me it was just as big and important as any other race out there. It was a great experience and I'll say this right now... I'M HOOKED!!!

I headed down to Albuquerque early Saturday morning, and arrived around 1pm at Linda and Jerry's house, my team mates who live in Albuquerque. After a nice lunch (fresh spinach from their garden - what a treat!) we headed out to the area that the race was taking place to see what we might expect during the race. This ended up being a good thing, although I wasn't so sure while we were riding - let's just say that I had thoughts of throwing my mountain bike into the trash after the day was done. Yes, I know, irrational thoughts, but that's what can happen when you have hundreds of cactus pricklies stuck in your butt. (I'll get to that story in just a minute).

The area was mostly single track, which I have NEVER done before. Just imagine me, who is still learning to ride in a straight line, trying to stay on a narrow trail with rocks and trees as obstacles. I was actually doing fairly well for most of the trail, although there were spots I had to walk through. That was until I got to a very narrow, sandy portion of the trail. I lost control, fell and landed right on a cactus plant.

We spent the next 30 minutes pulling cactus out of me (I also spent it cursing all desert vegetation, mountain bikes, single track, and anything else I could think of that I was mad about). Once I was pretty well cleaned up, we got back on the trail but I was still a bit ticked and hesitant to get back on the bike. I was also trying to talk myself out of running the race the next day - if the trails were going to be like this I wanted no part of it!

I snapped out of my mood (as I usually do) and got back on the bike to finish the rest of the ride. Our time on that trail ended up being a good thing - the trail we actually had to race on was much easier than we expected and our experience the day before was VERY helpful during the race.

Before I tell you about the actual race, let me first give you all a brief description of what an Adventure Race is (since that is the most common question I get from everyone)

Adventure racing is kind of like a triathlon but with different disciplines like navigation/orienteering, mountain biking, trail running, rock climbing and rappelling, kayaking and lots of other inventive stuff (I've heard of everything from riding a camel to inline skating to puzzle solving are involved - always interesting!)

The race is all about teamwork and navigation, not so much speed (although you are going fast the whole time!). At the beginning of the race you are given a topo map of the area and coordinates of where checkpoints will be - you map the checkpoints then figure out how to get to those places to get what they call a passport stamped. You are given points for each of these check points so it's pretty important to map it all correctly.

Once you figure out the checkpoints you have to figure out the best route to get to those places while doing the required discipline - for my race we had to start with trail running for the first 6 checkpoints and end with mountain biking for the final 5 checkpoints. We did a total of about 11 miles for this race, but many races can go for as long as 10 days and over 700 miles! I don't think I am quite ready for those races yet (but maybe someday).

Tutorial Finished... on to the race report!

We had 4 hours to finish the race and it included trail running/trekking and mountain biking. The race was mostly about navigation - there were 11 checkpoints for us to find and some were not that easy. A key problem we had was due to a lack of listening on our part - at the preliminary meeting they mentioned that all of the checkpoints were only 10 meters from the trail; what we failed to hear was "and dry creek beds." Every single one that we had a problem with was in a creek bed - we just kept thinking there is no way it would be that far from the trail. Lesson learned - always listen carefully at the pre-race meeting!

We finished that race in 3 hours and 50 minutes. That was our goal, to make it back before the cut off and we did! We actually went pretty fast but our problems finding a couple of the checkpoints killed our time. But we had fun and made our goal, so it was all good in the long run. And we weren't even last - there were two other teams that beat us back to the finish but they didn't find many of the checkpoints so we ended up being 9th out of 11 - pretty good!

What I loved the most was the amazing comraderie among racers and an honor code that you have to help another team if they are having any difficulties or are in trouble. Lots of teams will race together to pool resources and support each other, despite also competing with the other team. It's just a great sport and one that I am growing to love. I can't wait to do more races!

It's always amazing to me to be around people who don't know what my life use to be like and the weight that was such a burden to me. But what I have found in talking with other racers is that they have also overcome things in their lives to be there - I'm just one of the many who has come through some sort of crazy journey and somehow survived. Through the entire race I just kept thinking about that, how much has changed, how much I have changed and how amazing it was that I was able to do all the things in the race with no problem. I can't imagine going back to what my life was before - this life is just too much fun!

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