A few weeks ago I participated in the Indianapolis Adventure Race – a combination of trail running, orienteering, canoeing, and mountain biking with an emphasis on teamwork.  It was an incredible experience, and I’m definitely hooked on the sport.  Here are some lessons learned:

1. Picking the right team is everything. Physical fitness is important, but it’s way more important to have positive people who laugh a lot.  Things will go wrong, and you need people who think that it’s kind of funny when they do.  People who would pick a team name like “Suckretariat” are probably a safe bet.  We passed a lot of teams out there who were cussing and fighting…and we couldn’t help but laugh at that, too.

2. Take a careful look at what is provided in the registration packet. The night before the race the organizers held a “prologue event”: 45 minutes of orienteering through the woods in the dark in order to determine starting positions for the real race in the morning.  For Team Suckretariat, the experience went a little something like this:

Race Organizers: On your mark, get set, go!  Tear open those envelopes!

Team Suckretariat: Envelopes?!  What envelopes?  Where did all the other teams get those envelopes?  Go ask the organizers […runs up to the organizers and back…] Oh, great, they were in the registration packet…I think I left it in the tent!

3. Brighter headlamps are worth every penny. All three of us had small, cheap LED headlamps, and we all three felt like we were stumbling around the woods with tiny fields of vision looking for the control points during the prologue event.  Luckily, our strategy was to Tank the Prologue.

4. Tank the Prologue. Our goals during the prologue event were 1) to not break a leg running around the woods in the dark with our weak and tiny headlamps — Jeff’s headlamp was not only tiny, but also quite pink — 2) figure out how this “orienteering thing” actually works 3) make it back on time.  The organizers repeatedly emphasized that no matter how many control points picked up on the course, anyone who made it back within the 45 mins would automatically start ahead of anyone who didn’t.  It was pretty clear from the pre-prologue Q&A that this point was not sinking in for many of our fellow competitors…and we ended up starting ahead of 15 or so teams even though we only completed a little more than more than half of the orienteering course.  We’ll probably try a little harder on future prologue events, but we stand by this strategy and heartily recommend it to other AR noobs.

5. Secure your maps to your body. Our canoe capsized within the first 20 minutes of the race.  Yes, it was embarrassing.  A great many teams capsized at one time or another, though…kind of comes with the territory of jumping in and out of a canoe in the dark to swim under logs, push the canoe over logs, and lighten the load to run ‘er through the shallows, I guess.  Of course, our capsize came at a point where the river was clear, the water was calm, and there was absolutely no reason to flip…c’est la vie.  Far worse than the embarrassment, however, was the realization another 30 minutes into the race that our waterproof map case containing all of the maps and instructions for the day had fallen out of my camelbak pack during the capsize and was nowhere to be found…It was a dark moment for Team Suckretariat as we paddled along for a while thinking that the day was pretty much over.  Thankfully we found another team’s dropped clue sheet at the first canoeing stop, and some race volunteers radioed ahead to the race director to get us more maps at the end of the paddle.  We were disqualified, but that didn’t matter too much as we were really just in it to finish the race and have some fun…disaster averted, but next time the maps will be tethered to me.

6. Eat and drink often and early. I was amazed at how much my body required over the course of 7 hours.  I ended up getting pretty dehydrated and feeling sick after the race despite the fact that I drank over 4L of water/gatorade and only used the loo once during the race.  I think next time I’ll drink more an hour or two before the race, and I’ll make sure I keep drinking during the canoeing.

6. Hold your line and don’t be intimidated by the AR-jocks. A lot of adventure racers are nice and pretty funny, but we ran into a few who thought they were hardcore.  How hardcore can you be when you’re neck-in-neck with a team named Suckretariat who tanked the prologue and started in 41st position?  We were running across a huge open field and a team of studs were convening on the same point as us.  Apparently, they thought that they had some kind of open-field-right-of-way or something and started yelling at us. “This is my line!  I have this line!  You have to yield!”  We gave them some big grins and a few choice words accented by hand gestures.  We held the line.

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