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!