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 Emily Korsch and I got started in adventure racing in 2009 at age 25. I was doing triathlons and playing soccer as a way to stay fit after college, and someone on my rec-league soccer team did adventure races. He described them to me and I knew immediately that I wanted to try one.
How did you find your first race?
My soccer friend asked me to race with his team for a local event, the Castlewood 8-hour Adventure Race.
Did you create your own team or did a team recruit you?
The team did “recruit” me, but most teams are always looking for women to race in the co-ed division. The funny thing was my soccer friend who invited me to race ended up moving out of state before the event, so we had to then recruit another person after me to field a full team!
Did you need to get any new gear, what did you need, where did you find it?
The Castlewood 8-Hour had a long gear list because it was in December and it was cold. I needed almost everything on the list. My biggest purchase was a mountain bike which I found on Craigslist for $250. The bike did great and I used it for a few more races before upgrading. I just scoured REI Outlet for the rest of my gear since I didn’t have a huge budget. My teammates lent me some things as well.
How did you train for your first race?
I was already playing soccer 1-2 nights per week, and training for triathlons. My main focus was learning how to ride a mountain bike, since up until then I had only ridden on the road. Mountain biking was scary for me, and my wonderful teammates took me out to some of the parks that the race route would potentially include, and we practiced. I was pretty slow but at least had a bit of confidence that I could handle some singletrack.
Did you need to gain any new skills for the first race?
I worked on mountain biking, as I just mentioned, and I learned how to navigate a little. My teammates were from the local orienteering club so they were already really comfortable with a map and compass, but orienteering appealed to me so I learned a little myself. We went to local orienteering meets before the adventure race to practice.
How did the race go?
I had so much fun. We finished the full course and were about mid-pack. I didn’t crash my mountain bike even though the course took us on some unexpected trails. I distinctly remember starting the race on foot, running down a paved park road like a normal 5k race, and then all of a sudden the entire field veered straight off the road and through the woods! No trails or anything, just bushwhacking! I loved it.
What hooked you on AR?
I think the combination of physical fitness, teamwork, and mental strategy. I loved the navigation aspect and how that skill could mean the difference in competitive rankings, instead of pure fitness. I also loved how the course was secret before the race. In triathlon, I saw people visit race locations to pre-swim, pre-ride, or pre-run each course multiple times before a race. To me that seemed boring and also somewhat contrary to my goals in physical fitness. I wanted to be an athlete that was ready to tackle any challenge, even a secret one, not someone who had prepared specifically for every bend in a given road for a given race. And adventure racing is the ultimate challenge: not only do you have to be prepared for anything, you have to make sure your entire team is prepared for anything, physically and mentally.
Since your first race, name one or two AR highlights you’ve experienced.
Well, I met my husband through adventure racing, so that has to be a highlight. We were on rival teams for a few races, then we raced together on and off for a few years, then we started dating after we raced together in my first multi-day race in Florida. I’ve also been really lucky to have raced with some extraordinary teammates (Alpine Shop and WEDALI). I thought I knew how to be a good teammate, but after racing with them, I became a better one. So, the Florida race (Sea To Sea 72hr) is a highlight, and each of my international expedition races have been highlights (ARWS Belize and GodZone in New Zealand) for both the race and the tourism afterwards. I also loved competing in the AR World Champs in Wyoming.Then, finally, the general Midwestern adventure racing community is also a highlight. We have some really talented and passionate teams here and it’s exciting to see them at races.
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.