You’ve seen the grueling races on television. Teams of hard-bodied athletes trek through forests, paddle raging rivers and scale rocky spires over hours or days. They get muddy and bloody. They don’t sleep. And when they cross the finish line as a team, they look deliriously happy.
Or maybe just delirious.
That’s adventure racing, and it’s growing worldwide. The races last anywhere from several hours to several days and can include kayaking or canoeing, rock climbing, mountain biking, trail running, orienteering with maps and compasses, and “mystery events,” just to keep the competitors guessing.
On Saturday, at Farragut State Park, the second phase of the inaugural “Adventure Sports Week” kicks off with adventure races for athletes of many calibers. Some of the sport’s top athletes will be there, including five-time world champion Mike Kloser and two-time world champion Danelle Ballengee, who hit national news in 2006 when she fell during a Utah trail run and might have died if her dog hadn’t gone for help.
But the weekend is designed to offer something to everyone. Short-course adventure races are available to amateur athletes interested in sampling the sport, said Todd Jackson, one of the co-founders.
“All you need is yourself and a partner and a mountain bike. You’ll have a sense of adventure and of accomplishment,” said the Lake Tahoe-based Jackson, who has produced hundreds of race events. He and Dave Adlard of Athol developed Adventure Sports Week after meeting at one of Jackson’s events. Adlard founded the Great West Gym Fest, which brings hundreds of athletes to Coeur d’Alene every year.
Adventure Sports Week offers 24 races, divided over two weekends. Last weekend’s events included the Xterra Northwest Cup, one in a series of international off-road triathlons. The winner was Dan Hugo of South Africa. Three-time Xterra world champion Melanie McQuaid of Canada took the women’s title.
But it also offered four-hour and eight-hour mountain bike races, orienteering contests, a mini-triathlon and duathlon, kids’ events, and three trail races. This weekend offers kayak and swim races, half- and full marathons, and 50-kilometer and 50-mile distance trail runs, the latter a qualifier for the Western States 100 Endurance Run.
The marquee events attracting the nation’s top adventure racers are The Crux and The Crucible, a two-day race incorporating mountain biking, trail running, orienteering, kayaking, and additional unrevealed challenges spread out over Farragut’s 4,000 acres and the surrounding forest. The races are national qualifying events for the U.S. Adventure Racing Association national championships. Both also offer short courses.
Some 300 athletes are expected to participate this weekend, matching last weekend’s attendance. Though the numbers are below race organizers’ expectations, Jackson said that’s understandable in the event’s first year. Both he and Adlard expect it to become an annual race series, eventually including mid-week events. “As with all things, you’ve got to get a year under your belt,” Jackson said.