Welcome to our series “15 First Adventure Races” which interviews veteran adventure racers on how they got started in the sport. If you’d like further resources, check out our New to AR? page on usara.com for additional material!
What's your name? How old were you when you did your first adventure race? Why did you want to participate?
I’m Phil Nicolas, and I was about 25-years-old when I did my first adventure race, around my birthday in 2000, I believe. I saw a flyer at work and thought that this 'event' looked pretty cool; adventure suited me well and it looked exciting.
How did you find your first adventure race? Which race did you pick and where was it?
I saw the flyer on the wall for the Extreme Heart Challenge in Ponca, Nebraska. It was the second running of the sixteen-hour race directed by Dave Sly and my curiosity got the best of me.
Did you create your own team or did a team recruit you?
I created my own team - I asked my coworker (who happened to be standing next to me), then he asked a friend of his, and then I asked my sister to join. We all agreed that it sounded like fun.
Did you need to get any new gear, what did you need, where did you find it?
I didn't own a bike at the time. I bought one the week prior to the race, and I used an old backpack of mine that fit everything. I had never navigated anything before, so I bought my first compass, which I still have. Also, I needed to purchase a handlebar-mounted light, which turned out to be worthless!
How did you train for your first race? Did you need to gain any new skills?
I ran a couple miles per week in the two weeks leading up and a few laps around the nearby corn field - literally four miles total. I rode around those couple corn sections a few days before the race and thought "I'm good to go!" Our team had no plan for navigator or navigation in general; no one on the team had any idea what we were doing. We knew about a rope section and I was pretty comfortable with ropes, so no issue there! I was thinking: Adventure!
Were there any resources (online or in person) that significantly helped you prepare? Please provide links if applicable.
Internet information was minimal; those were the days when you had to mail in your registration check before the deadline - <yup> old school mail-in registrations.
How did the race go?
Our first race was a total bust, quite predictably really. Two teammates quit after the first section, my sister and I were allowed to continue as a 2-person team. I was the only one on the team who had a clue how to open and read a map, this is why I was always the navigator in the early years. That first race, I was not aware we could write on the map, and when we would get close to the area of a checkpoint, I would eyeball the checkpoint location and say, “It should be around here somewhere,” and we would search. We were the last two racers to cross the finish line, the race personnel dropped the banner, packed up and that was it! I had packed 2 Gatorades and 2 sandwiches for 16 plus hours of activity, and I was starving.
What hooked you on adventure racing?
My sister and I crossed that finish line together; my wife was waiting for me and that continues to be a driving force for me when I experience low times in races today. That race kicked my butt and I knew I could better, and yet I had such a blast challenging myself in the outdoors, I knew beyond a doubt, I wanted to do it again. I talked about it for the next month to everyone that would listen.
Since your first race, name one or two AR highlights you’ve experienced.
There are many memories and lessons I've learned from AR. I'll never forget the beautiful pristine high alpine meadows of my first expedition race in the western Kootenays, and also the lesson on the importance of giving 100% and racing our own race.
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