It was once said and has been repeated for years, do something that scares you. These are often the reasons people jump out of perfectly functioning airplanes, jump from tall bridges with their feet attached to a rubber cord, jump off cliffs and other activities. These are the things that make us feel alive, make us connect to our deep inner animals, and simply make us human.
For years, deep down, I had wanted to try an Adventure Race. Seriously, I binge watched the Discovery Channel in the 90’s watching Eco-Challenge whenever it was on. I loved the idea of exploring in the woods for days and marveled at friends who compete or have competed in events. Several had humored me when I asked them endless questions. While not something I put out there to the world it always seemed like something that I would want to try.
Adventure Racing isn’t new; it’s been around for a while. I grew up spending time outdoors, hiking, kayaking, and exploring. A did a tiny bit of mountain biking. But definitely not trained for an Adventure Race. But recently, life has been about trying new things. When the opportunity arose to try an Adventure Race in California called Checkpoint Challenge, I said yes, then thought about what it meant after the fact.
The Checkpoint Challenge is put on by All Out Events as part of All Out Adventure Series. The race offered two options a 2-4 hour option and 6-hour option.
Yishai and Kristin Horowitz invited me to come, told me they would let me borrow a bike and kayak, all I needed to do was bring my harness and hydration pack, and be ready to move for 6-7 hours.
I figured, I went to Moab and biked once two years ago, otherwise, it had been nearly 20 years before that I was on a mountain bike. But one trip to Moab is enough, right? I grew up kayaking, so I knew how to do it, but in the race realized knowing how to kayak and kayaking four-miles continuously was a different experience. Then it came to navigation, trekking, and such. Well, I use to run ultras and a lot of obstacle races, so I should be good there, maybe. But in the last year or so, my running has dropped to almost zero other than a race here or there, and my training leading up to the event was 10-weeks of the Wim Hof Method.
Then there was that navigation and map reading. I was a girl scout, and we learned that a bit, I can look at a topo and know what it means, but my experience, yeah not so much. Oh and there way that time I got my whole family lost on a mountain creating my trail, and that other time when I was a kid and lost on a mountain for a couple of hours after my siblings were too slow and I ended up on the other side of the mountain. Did I mention it was also my mom’s birthday that day? Not one of my finer moments as a kid, freaking my mom out on her birthday. Although arguably better than her birthday I accidentally singed her eyebrows off when I didn’t check for a pilot light on the stove. But that’s another story.
Back to Adventure Racing, so with my pretty much lack of experience and preparation, I headed into my first 6-Hour Adventure Race. What could go wrong?
Before the race, I called Yishai the race director (also a friend) a couple of times figuring out what you wear to an Adventure Race. I pulled out my bike shorts that I gotten years ago from Hammer Nutrition still basically new, a trail running shirt, and my Dirt in Your Skirt Merino wool pullover in case it was chilly. I crammed my harness, computer, Inov-8 trail running shoes, a change of clothes or two in my backpack and boarded a plane to San Luis Obispo, California.
Landing in one of the world’s smallest airports I was picked up by a familiar face, Kaori Funahashi, who had been a photographer at Survival Run (and my roommate), just a few weeks earlier. She brought me to a local pub for lunch, and my race prep began (day drinking). After two beers and some pep talk from her, I was feeling a little better about the race. A friend and longtime fellow OCR racer Corinne Kohlen met us at lunch, and I tried to convince her unsuccessfully to race with me the next day. From there we headed to one of the many vineyards in the valley and proceeded to have a wine tasting, because what better way to prep, then taste some amazing local wine. Then headed to Corinne’s house to spend the night in the guest cottage and two glasses of wine with dinner.
Dreams that night consisted of missing race starts, failing in amazing ways, and another dream that we all just said eff it and laid in bed watching tv. Weird dreams. But woke up the next day, feeling good, but ended up leaving a little late to get to the race venue, were dreams coming true. I show up to Kaori telling me I was late, the bike was being worked on for me, and Yishai told me all was good.
Being late was good as I was feeling totally in over my head and if I had time to think about it, I probably would have just wanted to bail out on it all.
Seriously, what had I been thinking?
But I listened to the pre-race briefing, was handed a small map and we were told to run up the hill “over there” to find the race maps. Years of obstacle racing, Survival Run, Death Race, and training with Joe De Sena back in 2011 taught me to expect the unexpected. So I trudged off with a bunch of racers (mostly in teams but I was solo) found my map, ran down and got on the bike for an 8-10 mile mountain bike.
But before I could leave I realized I hadn’t adjusted the seat so I ran to the bike guy, and thankfully he helped me get that set. It was only a slight moment of panic. Deep breath, you are okay, go with the flow and just do it. I biked along basically a dirt road and got use to the bike as I went.
The giant hill on the course I got off the bike and hiked it, along the way realizing it was all good, they mean it when they say the phrase “it’s like riding a bike.” When the hills were too big, I got off and hiked and slowed when the downhills or turns were big. Luckily the bike course was not too challenging so I was okay for most of it.
All was good; I only fell over once into a bank. I even laughed on the downhills and let it rip a little. After a fun cross country section, I saw the transition area, took a deep breath, I was almost done!
I hit a bump weird, and endo’d over the bike somehow banging my groin/hip area into the end of the handlebar and just gave myself a scare. My hip hurt but a quick spot check (thank god for my EMT training and years on Killington Fire/Rescue) I realized it was “merely a flesh wound.” I was shaken but headed down to the transition area, Yishai asked me how the bike ride was, and I did my best not to cry still a shaken from the fall as I talked. Deep breaths, and put the pain aside and headed into the trekking and navigation part of the race.
Being shaken still reading the map took a little longer but once I got my bearings and got the bearings of the next checkpoint I headed up a big hill and started off on the run/hike/trek part of the race. The next checkpoint was optional but was only a little swim in a pond; YES OBSTACLE RACING taught me well! While others complained it was cold Wim Hof Training came into practice, and the cold was an awesome feeling. Unlike OCR, I could strip down and swim in my sports bra and undies (worn specifically for this reason in case there was swimming).
Moving along, the course was partly marked, partly unmarked and required navigation and bushwhacking. We ran along a creekbed, and I gingerly hopped from rock to rock my hip throbbing. As I went, I kept breathing into the hip (Thanks, Wim!) and kept reminding myself when minor panic attacks were brewing that “everything was fine and just breath.”
Then the fun came! Two Tyrolean Traverses on the course, but not like the kind in obstacle racing. Instead, it was more like zip lining. I was talked into doing the 6-hour over the 2-4 hour just because I would get to do this feature! Even better was Kaori there to cheer me on and snap some amazing photos!
Continuing along was a part of the course that required navigation and reading the map. Kaori was following the group I was in capturing photos, me leading the way. As part of the race ops team she couldn’t tell us if we were going in the right direction or not so I ended up leading the group to the top of a wrong ridge but not more than 5-10 minutes out of the way. All good just breath. I reached another checkpoint and then kept going on another marked part of the course pushing my way through bushes, again thanks to years of doing interesting races this all seemed normal.
Reaching the next checkpoint, I entered into a couple of miles of easy trails and found jogging was easier than walking on my hip, don’t ask how. When I started to have self-doubts, I breathed into it, taking those deep breaths in and letting go on the exhale, calming my body and mind. (Thanks, Wim!) I spent a while by myself at this point and had time to think and just be with me. The scenery was fantastic, and the solitude was welcome. Normally, people race Adventure Races in teams but this race had a solo option which for me was probably the best bet to start my AR adventures.
I finally got to the next transition, and it was time to get the kayak and portage it back to the river. I struggled with the kayak for a few minutes and was attempting to balance it on my head when a team of three men told me I could put my kayak on theirs which was on a roller thing and we could all go together. This was only one of the moments of kindness that were a theme throughout the race. People everywhere were willing to help a newbie like me and offer encouragement.
We got to the river/stream, and they insisted I put in my kayak first. I said thank you a ton of times and was so incredibly grateful for the kindness in the midst of a race. I began to paddle alone again and embarked on a 4+ mile kayak. At this point, I had been racing almost 6 hours and had been told we needed to be done by 7 hours to be a finisher or incur penalties.
I paddled in a kayak made for the ocean and not speed, found my rhythm and just tried to keep my heart rate in a healthy zone but push it to try to make the cutoff. Two teams passed me but offered encouragement, again the kindness was incredible. Finally, after just over an hour of kayaking against the wind I made my way to the landing, and there was Kaori to capture my final push. I pulled the boat to shore and ran to the finish line being cheered on by racers along the way who were enjoying a post race beer and food. Greated by Yishai and Kristin at the finish.
After talking with a few racers, again all super encouraging, I washed off and then when awards were called my name was called as the third female solo finisher. WHAT! How did this happen? Nevermind, I went and picked up my award, super excited, not to get the award but to have finished, stared down some demons, and most importantly tried something new and totally out of my wheelhouse.
What got me through the race?
So, day drinking before a race is probably not the best idea, but for me, it helped keep me calm and probably helped with anxiety. But what really got me through the race? A good attitude and the ability to laugh at myself and “be in the moment.”
The last couple of months of the Wim Hof Method training really in many ways was the best training I could have ever done, throughout the race I employed the breathing to relax and kept going when in the past I would have freaked out, cried, and wanted to quit. Not a side most people know of me but it is there and deeply in me.
I credit years of training to bring able to get through all the different elements but don’t recommend my method for most people. Seriously, train or at least get on a bike before racing. But it can be done my way; training would have made it more fun and less painful the next day.
Overall, I am so grateful for the opportunity, the experience, and most of all the kindness of all those around me while racing and everyone who made the trip possible. Oh, and do I want to do it again, yup! I highly recommend if you want to try Adventure Racing head out to California and try out Checkpoint Challenge. You won’t regret it.