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!
Who are you and why did you want to do an adventure race?
I’m Abby Perkiss and I started adventure racing in 2007 at the age of 26, after a year of semi-goading from new husband/not-yet-teammate, Brent Freedland.
How did you find your first race?
GOALS ARA is a local organization in Philadelphia. Brent had done a few of their races the previous year when he first got into AR, and they had an end-of-season sprint called The Edge. The week before, he had called from Missouri, where he'd just completed his first USARA Nationals. I told him I was ready to give AR a try. In his exhausted state, I'm not sure he realized that I meant that next week.
Did you create your own team or did a team recruit you?
Brent had actually recently been recruited to race for the GOALS ARA sponsored team, but since it was my first event, we raced as “Somewhere Near Paterson”, a line from a favorite song.
Did you need to get any new gear, what did you need, where did you find it?
I think between the two of us we had most of what we needed for a six-hour sprint.
How did you train for your first race? Did you need to gain any new skills?
I had a couple marathons under my belt, and I think I'd gone mountain biking a few times by then. But really, I threw myself blindly into the woods and trusted that Brent would get us to where we needed to be.
Did you need to gain any new skills for the first race?
Plenty of them :) But I didn't really appreciate it until we were out in the woods. If we had just been out to finish, I would have been 100% fine. Since we were racing, I would have benefited from more overall skill and experience in the outdoors. More on that below.
How did the race go?
We ended up winning the coed two-person division, which was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it's always exciting to find yourself atop the podium; a curse because it set some pretty high expectations - from myself and other people - that weren't really fair or reasonable given my experience level. It took me a few more years to iron those out and find my rhythm in the sport.
What hooked you on AR?
Without a doubt, the team piece. I grew up a competitive swimmer and then found my way to distance running (with a brief detour for an Ironman), all relatively solitary endeavors, despite having amazing communities associated with them. The intimacy and intensity that comes with adventure racing has no comparison. It drew me in and kept me coming back.
The other thing that hooked me was, ironically, that it wasn't a great fit at the start. Randy Ericksen often says that people are either hooked after their first race or they run away. Neither was really the case for me. I wasn't sure what to make of the sport. I didn't have the skillset or experience to race at the level I was very quickly racing at. It was hard, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I felt like I wasn't measuring up or meeting expectations. I felt like mandatory gear. It's not a stretch to say that adventure racing in those early years put more strain on our marriage than anything else - before or since - as Brent and I figured out how to be teammates and meet each other where we were.
But because of all that, it was also a puzzle to solve, and one I wanted to figure out. And I can point to exact moments - in specific races - when it started to click. When I started to learn the difference between participating and competing. When I began to see the map in the woods and understand what I was looking at. When I felt like I was contributing, rather than just hanging on. And those moments? They were revelations.
Since your first race, name one or two AR highlights you’ve experienced.
Watching the Perseid Meteor Shower from a canoe in the middle of a lake in central Maine. Communing with wallabies and wombats in Tasmania. Having our one-year-old daughter meet us on the final leg of the seven-day Expedition Alaska. Standing atop the podium at the 2017 and 2018 USARA National Championship with some of my favorite people in the world.
Stay tuned for more from USARA! Visit www.usara.com for more information on adventure racing in the United States.
A space for AR musings from the USARA team and guest authors. Ready to race? Check out the rest of our resources on the USARA homepage.