For four years now, my brother and I have wanted to do an adventure race. We never actually committed to a race because we didn’t have a girl willing to compete in such a rigorous race, much less have a girl that could compete in such a race.
We found both in one of my friends who is an avid runner. At first, I was not sure if she would be “hardcore” enough to want to do an adventure race. However, after driving by her running on the 301 bypass… on her way to work out at the gym, I quickly rested any doubts.
The race was set for January 14. This gave us a couple of months to train. However, we didn’t really train all that much. Josh and I would go biking every now and then but nothing compared to the eight hour race we were set to compete in. We didn’t train as a team until three days before the race. For our first team training session we ran eight miles and Josh and I were dead tired. Taylor led the way and had to stop to wait on us a few times (this would be a re-occurring theme throughout the race). We kept reading that the physical aspects of the race were only half of the challenge; the other half consisted of knowing how to navigate. With that being said, Josh bought a compass two days before the race and read the directions on how to use it the day before. It was official–Josh would be our team navigator.
Here we were a day before an eight hour race, having done minimal training and having no clue how to navigate. Of course we registered for the elite division (along with one of the top teams in the nation) and of course our goal was to win.
We left at midnight and drove (we made Josh drive so he could practice his navigating skills) all through the night to get to Louisa State Park, near Orlando, FL by 6:00 a.m. After a night of zero sleep, I started second guessing: 1) if we could even finish a race like this and 2) if I even wanted to try.
We got our race map and went through team check-ins. After doing a quick assessment of the other competitors, I noticed that everyone looked to be in phenomenal shape and either military or ex-military. Not to mention, most bikes there could have cost more than all three of ours combined.
As we approached the starting line, I forgot about being sleepy and overmatched and only cared about winning. We started off strong finding the first two check points with ease. Everyone was still together so we didn’t have to navigate and were able to follow other teams. After the second check point, we decided to try and go a different route from everyone else. After all, we were here to win and Josh had successfully driven us to Florida; so we went along with this plan. Twenty minutes later we were running through thorn bushes up to our waist and getting cut up everywhere. This was when we concluded we were lost and needed to back-track to our last check point. We finally got back to the check point and continued to be lost. Since we were now in last place and no one in sight to follow, we were forced to learn how to navigate. While Josh tried to figure out where we were, Taylor and I paced around wondering how we were going to finish the remaining seven hours of the race. Finally, we figured out where we were but decided to not look for the remaining two check points because we were an estimated 30 minutes behind the second-to-last place team.
We started the biking section by easily finding the two check points on the way to the canoe area. We were riding as hard as we could and began to pass a few teams. The trails were full of sand and were extremely hard to ride on. This must have slowed down a lot of teams because we were able to pass six of them.
We began to feel good about ourselves and gained a little confidence. We took this confidence into the canoeing section. Pride comes before the fall, but in this case it came before the wave. As Josh and I scattered to find all our gear in the freezing water, Taylor swam her way back to land. Taylor was now adamant that this was not for her and that she was going home. Luckily for us, it was not possible for her to go home at this point because there would have been no stopping her. We reassured her that we wouldn’t flip again and encouraged her to get back into the canoe because there was nowhere else to go. This time I stayed in the water and tried to keep the canoe stable while Josh and Taylor paddled. As I was holding onto the back of the canoe in the freezing cold water and thinking how miserable the rest of the race was going to be, I noticed a dead lizard by Taylor’s barefoot. I thought about telling her, but decided it was best to just hope she didn’t look down. Not only did she end up seeing the lizard, but we ended up flipping again. We were now forced to carry the canoe along shore. Most other teams were also doing the same. We ended the canoeing section only getting one of six check points. Some teams abandoned their canoe to get the remaining checkpoints but most teams moved on to the running section.
We took our time regrouping mentally and physically after one of the worst hours of my life. I personally have had an unusual amount of experience with jumping in cold water, more than the average person; but nothing compared to this.
With dry clothes and shoes we were looking forward to the running section so we could warm up. This section was by far our best one. Taylor led the way and we were able to go ahead of half the teams. Josh was doing really well with the navigating and we were killing it as a team…until we took the wrong route and spent 30 minutes looking for a single checkpoint. This gave all the other teams time to catch up. This was the most frustrating part. No matter how hard we pushed, or how far we got ahead, the more experienced navigators would always catch up. This would happen multiple times throughout the rest of the race.
The last phase was very hard. There were 14 checkpoints scattered in a 20-plus mile radius. The trails were extremely hard to ride on and were like riding on a beach. We managed to find all the check points in this section and found ourselves with forty minutes to travel four miles back to the finish line. This was where we were able to pass a few teams because we knew exactly where to go and were able to out-race them back.
We finished in 7 hours and 34 minutes and came in third in our elite co-ed division. We learned a lot in our first race. We learned what to expect, that Taylor hated cold water but was better than most guys out there, and most importantly we learned that we were capable of winning!