Thursday, August 22, 2013

bitter pill: long rambling reflection

i've been looking at adventure races for a long time. i did a twelve-hour mountain bike race once, not signed up as part of a relay, but to do the whole thing myself.

because awesome.

century ride?


but i'm looking at a lot of these adventure races you see all over the place and a lot of them have the same tone as that time in college a bunch of the brothers of pi lambda chi for some reason jammed their bulky selves into sportcoats and ties and came to our spring recital and reception following and stood around uncomfortably making small talk and drinking punch so when they invited us to come to their toga party, we had to go.

it was the kind of party where they lay down plastic on the floors to catch the swamp of cheap warm beer. it's not so much that people were careless with the drinks, but actively flinging them around while dancing spastically.

and everybody is all kind of thinking they're hardcore crazy partiers but it just seemed kind of messy and unpleasant to me.

so when you look at a lot of the activities in a lot of these adventure races, a lot of what they call "challenges" is a lot like that. they'll hand you a dozen hot peppers to eat before you run up a hill, or throw your bike chain in a leech infested pond and let you dive for it before you can ride, or have you eat a pound of pierogies before you do a hill climb, or they'll apply electric current to you (an awesome way to find out who might have an undiagnosed heart condition), or a guy will jump out and try to hit you with a stick.

and everybody's all standing around congratulating themselves on being hardcore crazy people but really it's like watching japanese gameshows.

but i saw the posting for this race and i saw it was being run out of catamount, and i like to support events out of catamount.

and, um, i'm not going to lie to you: the poster had really excellent design. it was probably the poster that sucked me in.

so i went to the website and i read the descriptions and looked at the pictures and it seemed to me that while this race was going to have difficult challenges, they were going to be skills-based challenges and not how-much-goofy-stuff-are-you-willing-to-tolerate challenges.

additionally, the whole tone of the descriptive materials suggested to me that it is important to race management to get everybody to dinner on time, and not to show you how quickly you will be dropped if you're not fast.

but they don't mollycoddle you, either. they make you carry a lot of gear you totally won't need unless you have an emergency, in which case you will need that stuff. and they set up the course so that if you are an elite athlete, you will still have a challenging day. they don't tell you how much of the course you should cut to meet your ability level, but they let you know there's no shame in doing only as much of the course as you're going to be able to do in twelve hours.

it is a lovely and refreshing way to approach it: here's your map. here's the course. barring emergencies, we'll see you at the transitions. please try to be on time for dinner.

and then when you cross the finish line next to last in time and last in points they give you an ovation that they mean and they treat you, all of them, the race management and the other racers, they treat you as if you are every bit as epically tough and brave as the champions.

this is the important part: in their attitude they don't qualify your achievement in terms of "for you".  they don't say how well you did for dumpy little middle aged ladies in their first race. they know how hard it is out on the course. they know how many hours you spent on it and they treat you with the respect of those who meet shared challenges on equal footing.

you admire their strength and stamina. they admire your courage and perseverance. you all take in as much fluid and food as you can, you cheer for the winners, for the sponsors, for the organizers, and then all of you rush right home because it has been a long day and you need to sleep.

see you next time.



Chris Yager said...

Your team arriving at the finish, and the comments you made upon arriving, was the single best part of my day at the race. Congratulations on your achievement. We hope to see you at a future event!

Unknown said...

Loved your writeups - you two definitely had some of the best stories of the day, and its really rewarding to hear that people do get and appreciate our whole racing philosophy. I'm sure you'll tell the stories from your race as often as I do mine - hope to see you both racing again!!

ScottC said...

Fantastic race report. I totally share your sentiments about the GMARA crew. I'm not a big fan of contrived obstacle races that seem to be so popular these days. The GMARA folks are all about traditional adventure racing -- real teamwork, real navigation, real challenges. I've done a lot of racing with different organizations, and these guys have the best culture, best races, and best after-party!

Kristin @ Going Country said...

Two thumbs up to the DMALs. It sounds like a really positive experience for anyone and everyone, which is the point, right?

flask said...

DMAL? *holds head at angle, like a dog*

Kristin @ Going Country said...

Dumpy Middle Aged Ladies? Wasn't that your team name? Maybe I got it wrong. So much for being clever . . .

flask said...

oh. um, yeah.

i might have figured that one out.

but no. i was wondering if it stood for something like "dungeon masters at large" or something that OTHER people all know about.


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