A 24 hour Adventure Race that stirred up the hornets’ nest
Everyone who is familiar with Adventure Racing can jump to the race.

What is adventure racing (AR)?
Adventure racing is a combination of several disciplines, in this region mostly trekking, mountain biking, kayaking and orienteering (by compass and topographical map, no GPS allowed!).
You can race solo or in a 2-,3- or 4- person team, female, male or coed. The Elite category is the four person coed team.
The race has a time limit which must not be exceeded otherwise one faces time penalty. In the case of my race, the 24 hours Odyssey One Day, everyone has 24 hours to complete the course.
Before every race, the team or the soloist receives a topographical map and coordinates. Usually the team designates a navigator who plots the coordinates and decides about the race strategy – meaning how to get from one checkpoint to the next.
Most times, it is pre-determined by the race promoter which mode of transportation is used; however, there were times we could choose.
Once, the team has a race strategy and estimates food and water demands, the race can begin. (Each race is different; sometimes the map plotting is part of the race, sometimes not) The navigator leads the team to the checkpoints. In a 24 hours race, the checkpoints could be as far as 4 hours or greater apart. (The exciting part of adventure racing is that every race is different)
The team must stay together at all times. There is mandatory gear that must be carried such as a medical kit, knife, whistle, etc and most likely it will be checked at some point throughout the race. An example of the list is here.
With 3 liters of water and food for 24 hours, the back pack can be very heavy.

My race food: 3 burritos, nuts and berries, energy shots, power bars, tuna sandwich…guessing about 3,500 calories

In a 24 hours race, the night adds another challenge to the race. Having enough battery time, and solid navigation skills (especially when bushwalking in the dark) become imperative to successfully finish a race.

The race
Before I even start with anything, I need to point out that I never could have survived this race without such incredible teammates. Mark (Pro Adventure Racer and Navigator), Charlie (outstanding in all AR disciplines) and Shane (Team Captain and comedic in such a way that it was impossible to concentrate on my pain) were part of the Odyssey Adventure Racing team – one of the best teams in the US.
Shane called me two weeks before the race and asked if I want to race. Since I knew the guys, I thought this would be a fun team to race with! I told him that I haven’t run more than 3 miles or been in a kayak or canoe for the past 3 years. Shane said, no problem, we will make this work.
In those two weeks, I ran as far as three miles but never made it into a kayak for training. Well, this definitely would be a challenging race. On top of it, I haven’t stayed up for an entire night for a long time so my body would complain at some point during the night.
Besides my lack of training in two of the three disciplines, I had no adventure racing gear anymore. My teammates provided me with literally everything – a sweet 29er mountain bike from Charlie while he would ride on his 30 pound beater bike, all mandatory gear, clothes and things that I did not even think about like protective skin crème for wet feet.
Shane and I drove to the race venue near Roanoke, VA on Friday afternoon. The race would start Saturday morning at 8am. We got there around 5pm and I thought we would have time to relax.
I forgot how much time the preparation would take. We were busy until mid-night.
Most of the evening we spent on plotting points and estimating the amount of time between transition areas so we could calculate how much food and water we have to take with us. We discussed race strategy, set up the canoes and labeled our packs, attended pre-race meeting (we learned that bears and snakes were on the course), made sure we put all our mandatory gear in our backpacks and got our food packs ready. So we were busy. Sleep the day before a 24 hours race was not priority.
On race day, we got up at 6am, ate breakfast and took care of the last details. At 8am the race started.
The first leg was a 10mi orienteering section on foot. Since we had two excellent navigators I knew we would take the shortest distance (opposed to the safest navigational-wise which would be on trails) which meant a lot of bushwhacking through the woods – brushes, thorns, whatever is in the way when you follow a certain compass direction.
My team loves running, so we ran – uphill, downhill, it didn’t matter. When I got dropped in the first mile, they took my backpack and we kept running. However, my cycling fitness didn’t exactly transfer to running very well so my legs didn’t like the downhill part at all. I started cramping ONE mile into a 24 hours race.  
I thought, sweet, because 24 hours weren’t difficult by itself! No, my legs had to revolt right from the start to make it a little harder.
Well, after a mile of trying to ignore the cramping, I couldn’t walk anymore. I apologized a thousand times to my teammates for my cramping but it seemed normal to them. They knew what to do – gave me electrolytes and did some magical stretching and I was better again. We blasted through the foot section in four hours with spot-on navigation. I don’t have to mention how my legs felt. My knees and joints, not used to running that much, were in awful pain. I don’t know if my feet hurt or not. Everything else was hurting so much more.
Well, then it came time to do a 20 mi bike section. It was 12 pm and we changed into cycling gear. Coming off a very painful foot section, being on a bike was like heaven. It didn’t realize until then how much I love riding. The speed you are going compared to running, the cooling wind and the legs just moving finally in the right direction – in circles! I felt like me again.
This time I could return the favor helping out a teammate when he didn’t feel well and I carried part of his stuff. I really enjoyed the dynamic of our team. Everyone helped out where they could. We rode to the paddle section and what timing, it started raining right for our transition. By then, it was 2 pm.
We dissembled our bikes to place them into the two canoes, put on lifejackets and off we were. The paddle section was a total of 18 miles with an orienteering section mid-paddle. Our two navigators were leading us perfectly to the checkpoints, which were located in the middle of nowhere (aka somewhere in the forest on no trail or any man-made feature).
Sometimes the brushes were so thick that it was hard to see my teammates.

One of the checkpoints was located on a super steep ridge but we were rewarded with wild blueberries (I waited to eat them until one of the guys put them in his mouth to see if they cause some serious consequences 😉 ) and an amazing view over other mountains we probably would climb up at some point during the race. 

Going downhill steep hills made my legs cramp. Here coming down from one of the orienteering check points. 
After an hour or so in the woods, we made our way back down a ridge when my teammate ahead of me accidentally stepped into a hornet hive. The hornets started attacking him and me. I froze and screamed like a girl. My teammate yelled “Run” and I think I set a new PR how fast I could run up a mountain. A few hornets chased me though and I ran and screamed some more. Finally, I got rid of them and I trekked back to my teammates. We counted at least 12 stings. After some antihistamine and alcohol pads we kept going as usual.

Back in the canoes we paddled for another few hours through few small rapids until we finally arrived at the take-out spot at 9pm to get out of the water.

Paddling down James River. You can see part of the bikes disassembled behind Mark
Shane and I in the boat for hours at that point.

We changed back into our wet bike gear, assembled our bikes and rode to the last orienteering section. We were 4 hours ahead of estimated schedule and made awesome time. If we kept going at that pace, we predicted to finish at 3:30am. When we arrived at the transition area, it was well into the night already. Maybe 11pm. We changed into our wet trekking gear, put our head lights on and took food with us for four hours – our conservative estimate for that section.
All the checkpoints were in the woods on some random ridge. We had to get 11 checkpoints which were all optional (meaning they were not required to finish officially). Since the distance of each of them was short, four hours seemed completely reasonable.
How off we were!!!
We started trekking through thicket. Our legs got more and more torn from the thorns and sharp brushes.
I started to get tired. It was way past my usual bedtime.
The time we calculated for finding the first checkpoint had passed.
We were lost.
We had to trek back to a path to get some sort of orientation again and spent an hour or so trying to find ourselves on the map. (Later we learned that the map didn’t exactly match the reality.) We climbed up seemingly endless ridges through thickets.
I got increasingly tired. My legs didn’t want to move anymore. My motivation was not exactly 100% and I lagged behind my team big time.
All I wanted was to sit down and let them find the spot. It was more than obvious that I needed a break so we stopped for 15 minutes.
We shut the lights off and holy cow, it was dark. I did not even the see the moon. We were surrounded only by noises that were foreign to me. Crickets? Other insects? Bears? I didn’t know. I took my previous thought process back and I did not want my team to search for the checkpoint without me. I won’t stay here by myself!
Finally, after 1.5 hours we found the first checkpoint and from then on, we found the next checkpoints very quickly. However, we lost a lot of time and it was 2am by then. I dragged my feet slowly behind them and the pace we were going was not helping to catch up with the lost time.
In fact, our navigators had to re-assess if we could get all points. Although I started feeling a little better, my teammates started to fade too. 
The view from the ridge earlier in the race.

 Climbing up ridges for 10+minutes and wading through thick brushes was very exhausting. Plus, we ran out of water because we were past our 4 hours we estimated for this orienteering section. Every time we stopped for navigational purposes, I dozed off.

At 4am, we found five of of the eleven optional checkpoints. Disappointing but we had to get back so we would not be late for the finish (which would result in penalty). We trekked back to our bikes and climbed up a mile-long ridge.
We finished at 6:30am and realized that we won! (We didn’t know until the end, because we don’t know how many checkpoints other team got).
Exhausted but very happy we all ate breakfast! That night I slept for 15 hours.

900 mi drive, 20 mi hike, 77 mi road bike ride in 42 hours

As preparation for Untamed New England, a 3 day adventure race and qualifier for the Adventure Race World Championships, my teammates and I planned to drive up to the White Mountains in New Hampshire to train in the terrain, where the race will take place. The training involved 20mi hiking across the White Mountains with about 15,000ft of climbing. We planned on climbing eight peaks of the so-called Presidential Traverse. After this estimated 12 hours hike, we would jump on our road bikes and cover another 77mi hilly road. To make this possible, I sped up a car purchase on Thursday so I was able to drive up to Connecticut. I planned on leaving on Friday 6am to arrive at 1pm in Connecticut where my three teammates live.

The execution of the plan looked a little different since the NYC traffic delayed my arrival time by three hours. Having finally arrived in CT at 4pm, Ernie, Ben, Fritz and I drove with two cars up to the White Mountains, which took another four hours. At around 8pm we left one car at one side of the mountain range, where we would arrive after our hike. After another 50min drive to our starting point, we started our hike at 10pm. The first part of the hike involved climbing up 5,367 ft to Mt. Madison, followed by Mt. Adams (5,774 feet), Mt. Jefferson (5,712 ft), Mt. Washington (6,288 ft). We arrived at Mt. Washington at about 5am or 6am and enjoyed our breakfast (soaked wraps with unidentifiable stuff in it) on a small bench.

We definitely couldn’t complain about heat (Washington, DC had 100 degrees) because it was around 40 degrees up there. We were already behind schedule and I take full credit for this. I hardly would define the paths on this mountain range as trails but more like as clustered rock formation, which asks for sprained ankles. After ten falls I stopped counting and I again proved to myself that balance is not high on my skill set list. After Mt. Washington, we headed towards Mt. Monroe (5,372 ft) realizing that this hike endeavor would take longer than anticipated. On Mt. Eisenhower (4,780 ft) we unanimously agreed to head directly back to the lodge since the prospect of breakfast at the camp lodge was threatened. Breakfast closed at 10am and we had about 1.5 hours to make the cutoff. So we took the fastest way down the mountain.

Finally, at about 9:30am we arrived at the parking lot and made our way to breakfast. After having taken advantage of all-you-can-eat breakfast, we got ready for the 77mi road bike ride, which was known not to be flat. I was actually looking forward to the road ride because I would consider biking my strength in adventure racing. However, after 10 minutes into the ride, having not slept for 30 hours and being physically exhausted, I revised my feeling of enjoyment and decided that misery would describe the bike ride better. The road ride course was basically a square. The first 20mi was easy, primarily downhill, which we smoked in 20 minutes. The second section was the worst because it was mainly everything uphill, which we went downhill before.

Since I was mentally in a different world, I have no clue how long it took. The third section was rolling hills, which could be described as pleasant again…not sure though. I stuck to the wheel of my teammate and we made a good time. We made some stops on the way. I felt increasingly better because my legs actually started working again so the last 17mi were fun. We spent the last two hours of our ride in the rain but we finally made it back to the car at 4:30pm. After a dinner at a local restaurant, we drove back to CT….very sleepy. I volunteered to drive for an hour until I saw everything double. After 42 hours non-stop action, we finally arrived in CT. The training weekend served its purpose: We were able to train as a team at the race venue. I am excited for August 12th! Check out the race at http://www.untamedne.com/

50 hours Adventure Race – E Fix 2010 Race Report

For the 2-day adventure race challenge Endorphin Fix in Hinton, West Virginia, I joined up with Team Berlin Bike. As a relative newbie to adventure racing, I was delighted to be part of a team that was National Champion in 2007.On Thursday, March 25th 2010, I was picked up by my three future teammates, Ben, Ernie, and Rafael, as well as Rafael’s father. The five hours drive to WV helped a lot to get to know each other, and after the drive I was pretty sure it would be a good race.

Team Berlin Bike before the race start: Monika, Rafael, Ben, ErnieOn Friday at 9:30am we got the maps and Ernie and Ben mapped out our course. (I don’t know how long each of these sections ended up taking, but you can safely assume each was long) First, we started with a bike prologue followed by a trekking section (12mi), canoe section (3mi), trekking (10mi?), biking (long), trekking (ok long), biking (nightmare), canoe (relaxing), biking (nightmare again), and canoe (sprint to the finish!).The bike prologue started out really well for me because I was able to impress my new teammates by falling into the creek, soaking my gloves and pants right from the start. Because 50 hours otherwise would be just way too easy, right?

The following trek section almost killed me because Ernie set a speed that I would not even do in a 12 hours race. Also, the weight of my backpack felt like carrying my own weight. The ultimate icing of the cake was the snow, which reminded me of Snowmageddon just two months ago in DC. (Here is a video of us trekking in the snow http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1b_UuxXyKxY) Lucky me, that I got towed by Rafael for the first trekking part.Nevertheless, after the four hour trek, I knew what to take (a mix of ibuprofen, caffeine pills, electrolytes, more ibuprofen, more caffeine pills and a 5-energy-shot would do the trick). The next leg was paddling. Usually, I am not the biggest fan of any paddling in a race, but this time I was looking forward to an upper body workout and a rest for my legs.

We had to take our bikes apart and strap them tightly to the canoe so we wouldn’t have to fish for the parts if the boat capsized. After about two hours of paddling, we realized that our speed must have been 1-2mi/hours, so we exited our boat and resumed our way on foot. The orienteering part began. Up to that time (it was maybe 10pm and 8 hours into the race), our team was very focused on getting from point to point, but I warned them I can be very chatty. On the walk to the orienteering section I looked for a victim who could entertain me…and I found one.Now it was time to find a checkpoint on a hill side, so we bushwhacked into the woods.

After half an hour of not finding the checkpoint, we circled back and tried to find it from a different side. The thicket of briars made the walk not so walkable but eventually we found that checkpoint realizing we kind of aimed in the wrong direction.The navigation of the next couple of checkpoints by foot hit the spot. We skipped some optional checkpoints because the ‘energy output: point’ ratio did not convince us to get them. We made our way back to the canoe to cross the river to find the next checkpoints. Mud up to our knees made our progress out of the water slower. The advantage of the mud was that it insulated our shoes (always trying to look for the bright side). Ben nailed the navigation for the next few points, so we made excellent progress on foot. The next checkpoint was supposed to be on a hillside but having arrived at the site, we determined the “hillside” was more like a cliff.

We concluded that Ronny, the race director, would never put the checkpoint on a cliff like that and we left without success. Talking later to other teams, we found out that the checkpoint was actually on the cliff. Conclusion: Never underestimate the evilness of the race director. The next checkpoint was on the intersection of two boundaries on a hill side. Not knowing how the boundary was marked, we were looking for something that was out of place in the woods. After an eternity of searching, Ernie finally found a little plate on the other side of a tree (not visible for walkers on the trail) so we could follow the imaginary line of this plate to the checkpoint.

The following checkpoint tested my patience because our team decided (not unanimously because I did not participate in the decision making) to find one checkpoint by climbing three times down the same ravine (at least it felt like that) just to climb up that immense ridge again. I was borderline bitchy and then happy when we finally continued without another try. At that point it was daybreak (17 hours into the race) and we had to refill our water. We used the nearby spring to do that. That was the first time I disinfected water during a race and I was surprised it actually tasted better than the chloride stuff from the faucet in my house.We made our way back to the bikes and found ourselves hammering the mud away from the bikes, which froze over the past hours.

On the bikes, my favorite part of the race started: biking up the hills. This fun ended when one of my teammates, Rafael, a 230lb muscleman, broke his chain – four times. The break was caused by Rafael’s immense torque and so I volunteered to tow him up some hills to decrease the strain on his chain. Since there was a weight difference of 100 lbs, we had to watch out that we did not come to a dead stop otherwise he would have taken me right back to the bottom of the hill.After an arduous bike section, we arrived in the park for the start of the orienteering section.

It was around 11:30am and 21.5 hours into the race. We had four hours to get the checkpoints to beat the cut off time – we did it in three hours. The sun was shining and it was a great day to do some walking through the woods.Back on the bikes, we had to return to the canoes. Our goal was to sit in the canoes before dawn. After a long downhill section (yes, there is downhill too), we had to cross a river. As any of my past teammates can confirm, Monika and river crossings are not a good combination. And of course, I was able to live up to reputation for clumsiness. Before we crossed the river, we took our shoes off so they would not get wet…or at least that was the plan.

In my case one of them got wet because I lost my grip and dropped it in. After a panicked “F&@%, I lost my shoe”, Rafael performed a life threatening move in the water to save my shoe. (Ok, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but nevertheless, it took some energy to get that damn shoe back.)Up next was a true hill climb. The elevation gain of the entire race was about 32,000 feet or 10km. It took us at least solid two hours to hike up the mountain/hill; it was steep and long. Finally at the peak, we were looking for a remote cemetery (strangely, a lot of checkpoints were on the cemetery) and were coasting the ridge with a beautiful view over West Virginia. At long last and still in sunlight, we made it to the canoes. The first 30 hours had passed. Up to this point in the race, I knew what to expect from myself since I have done several 30 hours races previously. The next 20 hours would become the interesting test.Back in the canoe with our disassembled bikes, we made our way seven miles down the river to a dam. Arriving at the transition area, we had to fight serious mud (see picture) and struggled to get our boats out of the water.

After a gear check and two minutes at the bonfire, we hopped back on the bikes and headed to a checkpoint in another park. It was around 10:30pm and we only had 4.5 hours to get the next checkpoint to beat the cut-off time. In high spirits, we started riding with the goal to get there before 4am; however, the demanding hill climbs slowed us down so much that we had to accept we would not make the cut off.With 36 hours into the race, I became increasingly tired and the seemingly endless hills did not help. Still progressing towards the next checkpoint, we saw a lot of teams in their space blanket sleeping on the side of the road. One team apparently managed to sleep in a house.

However, my teammates did not seem to be tired at all and so I tried to fight my sleepiness. Eventually, we arrived at the campground, an hour too late for the cut-off. I was so exhausted that I asked my team to sleep for 5 min. Request was granted and I fell to the ground. While I was dreaming of more sleep, my teammates refilled our water bladders and got us ready to go. Because we missed the cutoff, we had to take the same way back. We were still in the race but were not allowed to try for maximum points. Later on, we were told that there was only one team that managed to beat all of the cutoff times.

Despite the sleep and better mood, I was not looking forward to climbing the same mountains again. The first hill was so long (maybe an hour) that any benefit from my five minutes of sleep quickly wore off. The sleep monsters crept in and I managed to fall asleep while riding. Cracks in the streets became tree logs and I immensely slowed down, worried that I would hit anything on the street. Of course, my brain was playing games with me. Because I could not keep my eyes open any more, I made a deal with one of my teammates that when we arrived at the top of the hill, I was allowed to sleep for five minutes. The deal was accepted and I sprinted up that mountain hoping that I might gain six minutes out of it.

When I woke up, two of my other teammates had apparently been tempted by the comfy grass on the side of the road and were taking a nap as well. I felt better with five minutes rest, but once again the benefit was short lived. After half an hour, I was a wreck again and I repeatedly fell asleep for four seconds at a time not even realizing that I fell asleep. This happened about 20 times. Since some of the sections we were riding were downhill and the side of the road was very steep, my teammates were increasingly worried that I would find an even faster way down the mountain– the steep hillside off the side of the road. Trying to keep me awake, they asked me all kinds of questions. I was just in my own little world, trying to figure out how I can get some sleep. In my head I was plotting to come up with a way to get my teammates to stop so I could sleep. But I never got to put the plan in to action because the sun started to come up and the light helped to keep me awake.

What I did not know was the return route had more elevation loss than the way to the campground. So after four hours, we were already back at the canoes. It was around 9am and we only had to make our way back to the finish line. That meant all we had left was two miles of paddling and then to portage the canoe up the hill. Paddling in the canoe would not normally be a big deal….for someone who is awake. However, I fell asleep again. There was a risk I might capsize the boat so Ernie engaged me in a conversation and we safely hit the ground after two hours.

The portage up the hill seemed like a piece of cake and we arrived at 11:30am at the finish. It was a great race and it made it even better when we heard that we placed 3rd in the 4-person-coed category and 7th place overall.Racing with Berlin Bike was a great experience. They are a lot of fun. Adventure Racing is all about personality and these guys have great personalities. I also gained experience with sleep deprivation and know now better how to prepare for it. I cant wait for the next race!

Race Report – 30 hours adventure race Swamp Stomp Feb 2010

Washington DC had never seen so much snow as in early February of 2010. Being forced to train inside, I only could wish for sunny and mild weather. I never imagined that my wish would come true until I received a phone call that the team Calleva needed a female racer because their female racer was stuck in snow. Without hesitation I got ready and 30 minutes later I was heading towards Tampa, Florida for the 30 hours adventure race: Swamp Stomp. The race consisted of a paddle prologue, three bike sections, two foot sections and a final paddle section.And yes, the name of the race tells the story. The second bike section which was about 12 hours into the race and in the dark gave the race’s name all its proud.

During the night, we entered a remote park. Not only the signs with “Do not enter, you will get shot” but electrical fences and swamps left and right with unfamiliar animal noises made this section an adrenalin-heightening experience. The most epic part of the race was an hour or more (I lost the sense of time) of wading through knee-deep swamps….with bike. My inherited ineptitude for balance as well as my unsteadiness caused by seven Red Bulls (the race was sponsored by Red Bull which meant free drinks at the Transition Areas) made my graceless fall into the swamp inevitable. However, the thought of being stuck in the snowy DC made me appreciate the wet, cold and dirty conditions of Florida.Although we finished unranked due to the loss of our intern, it was an invaluable experience. Before this race, all my teammates have been American. It is a new and fun experience to race with Russians. I recommend the adventure!