As I sit down to write about my first-ever adventure race, it would be easy to zero in on the spills and mishaps, because there were many. Overcoming adversity is a classic story line, right? One sure to grab all of your attention.
I’d probably get you at eight flat tires … before mentioning a capsized boat in record-high water levels. Oh … and a wrong turn that took us about 10 miles out of our way and forced us to pedal an extra couple thousand feet of elevation.
There was a misplotted checkpoint too.
In short, it was a pretty epic 11 hours … that somehow ended in a third place finish.
But, interestingly enough, the story of my race was much more internal than external.
Adventure racing is an entirely different animal than ultrarunning in that it demands as much from you mentally as it does physically. (Read my article on preparing for my first adventure race).
You have to plot your coordinates and link together your own route. You have to manage various disciplines – in this case running, paddling, mountain biking, a Tyrolean traverse, and orienteering – and the gear and transitions that come with each. You have to have the humility to know when to accept a tow. My team mate Abby literally pulled me up a few of the biggest hills via a leash attached to her bike.
All of this forces you to be present. Totally and utterly present in the moment.
Even still you might flip a boat, miss a checkpoint, and bike 10 miles out of your way. Then, you have to dust yourself off, set frustration aside, and keep your spirits high.
In an odd way, for me, this all translated into a meditative state. Yes, I just called going non-stop and all-out for 11 hours meditative, but here’s why: it took me to a place where I was able to let go and just be. Work pressure, grief over a friend’s passing and the whirlwind of family life completely faded.
The weekend also gave me a much needed technology break. For a couple of days, I didn’t turn on the computer, check e-mail or peek at Facebook. I barely made a phone call or sent a text message.
Instead, I woke up early the morning after the adventure race, crawled out of our tent, made coffee over a camp stove, and just sat in the warm morning sun. I began to notice the details around me. The tree that shot 30 feet into the air as one solid trunk and then inexplicably divided into five prongs. The sun gleaming against spider webs turning the forest into a fairyland. The soft grumble of the Arkansas River as it swelled below us, currents twisting, colliding and folding together.
That same day continued to be spontaneous, fully living in the moment. We stopped to buy elk jerky from a vendor perched at 11,000 feet on top of a Colorado mountain pass. He pointed out the names of nearby peaks and told us about the Molybdenum mine just across the way.
Here I sit the first morning back in the office, still tasting the salt crusting up on my face and the sweet cantaloupe I gulped down at a transition area.
The weekend unearthed deep reminisces of the years I spent devoted to endurance racing, namely ultrarunning. I don’t for a moment regret the great new horizons my life has found – family and two businesses – but I do feel a stirring to get back out there. To find that mental place that only comes after hours, or days, out on the trail.