Brent Freedland of Rootstock Racing shares his perceptive on the 2021 USARA Nationals Race where he learned the proverbial 10,000 ways not to do something.
For her part, Abby Perkiss, the better half of the first couple in adventure racing, had this reaction to Brent's report:
I've been thinking a lot about Brent's race report since he shared it with me last night, aware that he spent an awful lot of it focused on his own shortcomings rather than everything he brought to the team: an incredible navigational and strategic recovery; an ability to keep moving - generally fast and in the right direction - despite significant physical and mental discomfort; and a willingness to help be find my way back onto the course and into the race after the fall he referenced in his recap.
I'm healing up pretty well over here. My shoulder is about 75% less colorful than it was earlier in the week, and I went out for a ride this morning to try to reclaim a little bit of my mojo on the trails. After starting out entirely too cautiously and struggling to find any rhythm, I crossed paths with Patty Skuster and a few other folks from our local women's mountain bike group, riding in the opposite direction. I grabbed onto a little bit of their energy and tore through the rest of the park with renewed comfort and confidence. Thanks for the boost, Patty!
Onto the next adventure...
Fresh off Nationals weekend, a lot of us racers are thinking about how we can up our game. Daniel Tauxe Staudigel shared some advice on the Adventure Race Discussion Group. Thanks for sharing, Dan!
Some unsolicited (and possibly horrible) advice: Don't try to "over-solve" problems. In an adventure racing career, there are so many things to figure out, fix, solve, that if you spend too much time on any one of them, you'll lose sight of the main thing: go out and get dirty! Build positive memories and relationships with your teammates. When problems come up, go with something reasonably light and durable, and come back to it when you have more experience. We sometimes act like having a bad time with something is somehow avoidable. Get the right shoes and you won't get blisters, get the right bike and you'll be fast, use the right kind of chamois lube and you won't get chaffed, etc. This couldn't be further from the truth. For me, the whole point of this sport is overcoming adversity - it's opting in to an objectively unpleasant experience because it's awesome, and we need that as human beings. We aren't built to live comfortable lives, we are built to solve problems and keep moving forward, together as a tribe or team. I look back at inappropriate nutrition, gear, and strategy choices fondly - they are a source of connection and love for me and my team. That time a teammate chose to take sandals on a jagged volcano/bushwack trek? Rad. Taking nothing but confectioners sugar, macadamia nuts, and spicy beef jerky to an 8-day expedition race in Patagonia? HILARIOUS. Starting an expedition race with a teammate with a bad hip? Bittersweet. Was I annoyed or sad at the time? Sure, but if I'm being super honest, the only thing I genuinely wish I had done earlier in my career is go to a physical therapist.
Rootstock Racing's Abby Perkiss shares her thoughts on the 2021 USARA National Championship:
Adventure racing is a funny thing.
Some days, everything clicks - you race to your full potential and you have the BEST time.
Some days, the race goes sideways, and the adventure sustains you.
Some days, the performance outmatches the experience and you struggle mentally despite what the results show.
And some days, nothing goes quite right, and you find yourself contemplating early retirement.
In the four races I've done this season, I've had each one of these experiences.
The thing about our sport is that the intensity of the experience amplifies EVERYTHING. The good and the bad. The affirmation and the dejection. The pain and the euphoria. Sometimes all at the same time.
When things in the woods go haywire - when the map isn't matching what you're seeing on the ground, when you're banged up and bee stung, when mechanicals stall your progress, when you're deep in a hole and can't find your way out, when all you want is to be anywhere but here - it can be tough to remember what brought you out in the first place.
Thanks to Brian and Brent for reminding me this weekend that we race because of the commitment we make to each other, to experience this -- all of this -- with each other.
Thanks for helping me remember my "why."
A commenter asked a very intriguing question on the Adventure Racing Discussion Group Facebook page. I thought I would attempt an answer here, but we will also keep it in mind for future USARA productions.
The question: "what separates all the highly competitive athletes, and the weekend warrior (and no disrespect to those great athletes), from the upper tier athletes competing during this weekend’s race?
What about those that are so close to reaching nationals but not quite at that level? What separates all those awesome athletes from this weekend’s competitors?
Sorry for rambling, it was just a thought in my head.
Like most good questions, the answer is complicated—mostly because there are so many different type athletes who get attracted to adventure racing (of course, the common denominator is that we are all nuts 😉).
To start, many of the “upper tier” athletes have a background in athletics. WEDALI, this year’s winner, features Mari Chandler who was a runner in college and trained with the Nike Farm Team in Palo Alto. She missed qualifying for the Olympic trials by a half second after her training was curtained because of an ankle injury. During an in-race interview, I think I heard her teammate, Biz (Justin Bakkan), reference college soccer when explaining his nickname. Having and maintain that athletic background often puts an athlete on another level. The “elite-of-the-elite” such as Ian Adamson and Nathan Fa’Avae, have made a lifestyle out of adventure sports.
However, other “elite” racers may have played sports in high school, but I know stories of self-described overweight couch potatoes who started exercising and progressed to fairly elite levels, even winning the national championship! Some get coaching to help with training and motivation; others join (or start) adventure race clubs for teammates and training partners.
The common denominator, though, seems to be dedication to training. No one can really be an adventure racer full-time—so between day jobs, families, and a cadre of other obligations, they find time to train—early morning, the commute to work, right after work, late at night, overnight, dedicated training weekends, etc.
And they race as much as they can--year after year.
The training and experience often pays off for those top teams.
So, what do the rest of us do? We do our best. When I went to Nationals in 2012, I had already been racing for 12 years. I was younger and in great shape. I was able to team up with one of those premiere teams—GOALS ARA—and landed a qualifying spot at nationals that I could use independently. My team finished 17th in the coed division. The winner that year—WEDALI, including Justin “Biz” Bakken.
After that year, life happened. I finished up my doctorate, received tenure, and my wife and I had two children. It’s hard to train on the weekends when you are coaching t-ball at 8 am, and 7u at 12 on both Saturday and Sunday. And my wife is a dedicated ultra-runner. So, our training time needs to be planned.
That said, Nationals is within reach, especially for those who are “close.” There will be some different qualifying procedures in place next year. The key—get a team together and do some races.
And for those who don’t think they can do it, listen to the interview with Barbara Phipps—A 2021 USARA National Championship Finisher!
No Complaints and Goals ARA are together at TA 4, ready to head out on Stage 5. Wildlings will be arriving on bike at TA 4 shortly, so all of these friendly teams will likely be seeing each other out on the nav leg. Based on the tracker, which is subject to verification after download of the SportIdent chips, No Complaints is ahead in the CP count, followed by Goals ARA and Wildlings just behind them. So, if these teams all clear Stage 5, that should be the final standings. Stay tuned. . . .
Defending champions Quest Racing take second in the premier co-ed division. They pushed WEDALI all the way and both teams expressed how much they appreciated the friendly competition throughout the race. We certainly enjoyed the dot-watching thanks to Enabled Tracking by Adventure Enablers.
Congratulations to the 2021 USARA National Champions--WEDALI!!!!
WEDALI has checked out of TA 5 and is on a final, 5-mile gravel ride to the finish. They look untouchable at this point, as Quest still needs to grab their last CP on the final land nav section before joining the leaders on the ride back in. Not knowing where Quest is, we expect WEDALI won't be letting up on the gas.