The nation’s largest adventure race returned this weekend, with a sold-out field of five hundred athletes take part. The seventh edition of the Rib Mountain Adventure Challenge, which includes three-, eight-, and eighteen-hour divisions, drew participants from fourteen states, ranging in age from seven to sixty-nine. While the longer division often draws top teams from the region - reigning national champions Team Toyota Tundra claimed the top of the podium in this year's eighteen-hour race, their fourth win of the season - the annual Memorial Day event is perhaps best known for welcoming newcomers to adventure racing.
Megan LaDue, an occasional 5k finisher, made the trip up to Rib Mountain, Wisconsin from Florida to participate in her first adventure race. LaDue is in good company; 58 percent of this year’s field chose the Challenge as their first or second adventure race. “We are thrilled to introduce so many to the sport we fell in love with,” said Anna Nummelin, who directs the event with her husband and Rib Mountain Racing teammate, Tim Buchholz.
LaDue teamed up with Douglas Henke, her college sweetheart, in the three-hour race. After she and Doug graduated, LaDue joined the US Army and they parted ways. In the Army, she ran obstacle courses and learned to navigate. “It was challenging and exciting and pushed me to places I didn’t know I could go…” The pair recently reunited after a twenty-year separation. They started chatting remotely, and then by phone - and then Henke flew down to Florida for a business trip and invited LaDue to participate in the 2022 Rib Mountain Adventure Challenge. “Fast forward to the present, after four kids, a divorce, and somewhat forgetting who that girl was... Now at forty, I’m so excited to be doing this race.... and it will be a great way to reconnect after twenty years!"
The duo joined forces with Henke's cousins, Paul and Hallie. As Team 507, they navigated their way through fourteen of the sixteen checkpoints on the course, strong river currents preventing them from visiting the final two. "The entire experience was incredible," LaDue reflected. "Riding the bikes through the cow barn was my favorite part. This race was literally the hardest thing I have ever done physically... [and] I would say that adventure racing is a great way to rekindle a relationship!!"
Team Liberty Pups returned this year for their fourth Rib Mountain event. The team – whose name is a nod to their pet dachshund – has historically consisted of mom Liesle Markevitch and daughter Ellise. The pair learned about adventure racing as many have: watching Eco-Challenge. But their journey into the sport was more complicated. In ninth grade, Ellise entered in-patient treatment for an eating disorder. One of her symptoms was over-exercising, and after a year away from activity, part of her recovery included easing back into sports. Her reentry coincided with her mom’s introduction to Eco-Challenge. “It looked like horrible fun,” said Liesle, a longtime Crossfitter. “It was totally outside of my comfort zone and I couldn’t believe people would actually do it.”
The pair decided to enter their first Rib Mountain Adventure Challenge as a local, low-stakes competition. “It was new to us so we weren’t completely invested. If it was too much, we could just walk away.”
They loved it.
Team Vert has finally broken through and claimed a mixed division USARA National Points Series Regional Championship race. The team won in meticulous fashion surviving an epic overnight trek and was the only team to clear the course at NYARA's The Longest Day.
“We had so much out there,” said Alyssa Godesky from Team Vert. “We knew this would be a course to play to our strengths of being physically demanding on technical terrain, so we were pleased to back that up with a solid day of navigation and route choices.”
Teammate Matt Cymanski concurred about the difficult course through the Catskills.
“The course was by far the physically hardest trekking we've experienced in an adventure race, compounded by the heat on Saturday, but we loved it,” he said. “There were some interesting route choices, great unpredictable, mandatory bushwhacking with not many rhododendrons, and some opportunities to put the hammer down on roads and trails.”
“The course played to some of our strengths, but also it was incredibly well run by Aaron, Austin and the team at NYARA. They worked really hard and pulled off a ton of logistics to make the race happen,” he added.
The race was originally scheduled for western Connecticut, but the state wouldn't issue any permits due to logging activities in one section of the course.
"I have been adventure race planning non-stop for two months," said Aaron Courain, the main race director. "The course hasn't suffered at all. We were not going to just slap something together. I would want to race this course."
NYARA is very familiar with the Catskills, but the course reused a few areas. And they haven't been used since 2009 in this linear, point-to-point race featuring big elevation, class IV scrambling near the summits, and beautiful alpine terrain.
“The overnight trek is pretty committing,” said Aaron Courain, NYARA Race Director. “It is 12 miles and 5000 ft of vert. There is no way out other than through ---I was a little worried. The 3 mile bushwhack is very committing.”
"It was all of our first time visiting the Catskills, and it was a unique opportunity to race through the wilderness area," said Cymanski. "We will definitely be back in the future."
Team Vert has raced strong at the other Regional Championship races including the Shenandoah Epic in April and the Hard Fall last October.
“It feels great to finally get the first adventure racing W,” said Cymanski. “We targeted this race with the intent of punching our ticket to Nationals, and it seemed in doubt a few times during the day and night to us, but we were able to manage our mistakes and always keep moving forward. We still have so much to learn but are excited to see where we stack up against the best in the country this fall."
Team Vert joins Strong Machine AR, Team Kuat, Rootstock Racing, Dead Reckoning, and Team Toyota Tundra as mixed division Regional Champions who have earned free entry into the USARA National Championship in September.
The Longest Day, the next Regional Championship race in the National Points Series, kicks off with LIVE TRACKING at 9 AM Saturday, May 14 from the Catskills.
Just having racers toe the line for the start is a win for NYARA. The race was originally scheduled for western Connecticut, but the state wouldn't issue any permits due to logging activities in one section of the course.
"I have been adventure race planning non-stop for two months," says Aaron Courain, the main race director. "The course hasn't suffered at all. We were not going to just slap something together. I would want to race this course."
NYARA is very familiar with the Catskills, but the course is only reusing a few areas. And they haven't been used since 2009. The overall format will be a linear, point-to-point race.
"The racers will not see the same spot twice," says Courain. "There is a lot of ground to cover."
"We always get some good, fast teams here. Rootstock, Thisability, Strong Machine, Vert-- it will be a very strong premier division."
This will also be the first time that a NYARA race has featured packrafting.
"We are really excited about that added element. It will open up more options from a race designer point of view in the future."
NYARA is looking to design more races in the Catskills as well as the high peaks of the Adirondacks.
The Mission AR is back for its 20th Anniversary year WITH LIVE TRACKING starting Saturday, May 7, at 6 a.m. at the Starve-Hollow State Recreation Area in Vallonia, IN.
Race director Brian Holzhausen has designed "one of the most physically demanding yet.”
“People think of Indiana as flat, but this area has shockingly steep terrain,” says Holzhausen.
He keeps the course fresh by moving the race to a different host location in Indiana every year and rerouting any previously used locations.
The paddle section will be quite unique.
“The paddle section has some interesting route choices; depending on water levels it could be a big factor,” he says. “I paddled the canoe section yesterday, and it is truly one of Indiana's most natural rivers. I saw more wildlife species in 3.5 hours than I have seen in a long time.”
With rain in the forecast, the river should be running high and the wet conditions will make for some difficulty on the the trails.
"The steep, muddy sections will be a real test of strength and spirit,"
The Blue Ridge Adventure Race, a Regional Championship race in the National Points Series, kicks off at 6 pm Friday night, May 6, in downtown Blue Ridge, GA.
But don't expect to start from there.
"The secret is always using the point-to-point design,” says Jeff Leininger. “Busing teams to a different start location each year and having them race back to Blue Ridge."
Teams will board buses at 5:30 p.m. and the race will start 30 minutes later.
The evening start also makes for a unique experience as darkness will strike early in the race. How quickly the teams adjust to the nighttime navigation early in the race may be the difference maker.
He also loves to put single track in his races. Look for the teams to use the Bull Mountain Trail System—an iconic steep and technical trail system in the region.
Official USARA Media Partner
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.