Last week saw the return of EX2 Adventures VentureQuest 9-Hour Adventure Race at Fountainhead Regional Park, Fairfax Station, VA on September 29th, 2013.
As far as adventure races go, this is one of the more enjoyable courses considering the mix of orienteering, intense mountain bike trails, and fantastic canoeing along the calm Occoquan River.
Reckoneer’s own Dauntless Adventure Racing fielded a two man crew with team captain Kyle Bondo, and co-captain Aaron Rodgers, who managed to pull out a 9th place finish in a field separating 5th to 10th by only 25-minutes.
But what did our adventurous duo learn from this race that they hadn’t already learned in four years of racing other (and harder) adventure races?
We asked Bondo and Rodgers of Dauntless to help us break down the racers point-of-view of adventure racing and why people enjoy this sport so much.
Their answers might surprise you.
Fast and Faster
The first thing that Dauntless let us in on was how important the start is.
“We use to think the start was nothing more than a photo opportunity”, Bondo said.
“We would let the other teams burn themselves out while we jogged and paced ourselves. However, we are starting to realize that in a race separating 5th from 10th by 25 minutes, the start may be the only time you get any distance from the pack.”
Rodgers too was reconsidering the start. “Compared to the longer 12-hour races, the shorter races give you no time to close the gap,” stated Rodgers.
“Shorter races are harder because you cannot fall back on an easier pace. You have to keep pushing, and pushing, and pushing. The only rest is in the canoe and maybe at the finish.”
Both racers have started to reconsider their laid back approach at the start of an adventure race and now see how a fast start can be the difference between a 5th or 9th finish.
“We also found out that we wasted a lot of time in the transition areas,” explained Rodgers. “Getting water, switching out gear, and eating are important, but we had a tough time with shoes. It’s hard to believe that the simple act of having your shoes already untied can save you tons of time.”
Bondo also explained that time spent in transition can be difficult on a team morale.
“Nothing sucks worse than coming into the transition after you thought you were ahead, only to see all the bikes gone. But in this race, we arrived to find all the bikes still here, and that made us relax; which is something you should never do!”
Both Bondo and Rodgers explained that and adventure race is deceptive when it comes to understanding what place you are in.
“You sometimes see other teams in the field and think they are ahead of you. But chances are you have no idea who is ahead of who. Thinking you’re in the lead can really make you over confident.”
Rodgers added, “The key is to think you are behind at all times. That way you never relax and keep that pressure on your team to keep pushing forward.”
Dauntless has had its difficulties with navigation.
Both racers explained how their race during the Adventure Addicts Racing’s Adrenaline Rush 12-hour with teammates Erika Borlie and Sid Billups in June 2013 was full of orienteering heartaches.
“We’ve had a few races like the Adrenaline Rush where that one checkpoint is just tough to find. Kyle normally is spot on with navigation, but even he hits a bump. And that bump is where the team needs to dig deep and let the errors roll off. Sometimes, the checkpoint is just not going to get found.”
Rodgers, the backup navigator for Dauntless, went on to explain that during some races, the main navigator can get overheated or confused, and without team support or a backup, everything can come apart rapidly.
“Navigation is a team effort,” Bondo pointed out.
“I may have the map and compass during one section, Aaron may have it during another. But we each know what we need to do to find it, when to call it quits on a checkpoint, and when we need to stop and rethink our approach. A team that cannot reboot itself when it comes to navigation is in big trouble.”
Both seasoned adventure racers pointed out speed is not always a good thing and if you don’t know where you’re going, speed can cost you valuable minutes of time.
“During this race,” Bondo explained after his VentureQuest finish, “we encountered only two checkpoints that gave us trouble.”
“One was hidden in the folds of several hills that all looked the same on the map, while the other was behind a ridge that you couldn’t see when you approached it. The search for both those points cost us a few minutes. We recovered fast, but the minutes add up.”
All members of Dauntless are active within the Quantico Orienteering Club (QOC) and talked extensively about using QOC courses to improve their navigation skills.
“We are constantly racing QOC events to improve our map and compass discipline,” Bondo explained.
“A QOC course is a great place to make mistakes and learn from them. Better at an orienteering event that costs $10.00 then at an adventure race that costs $100.00 each.”
“We are a fast team on mountain bikes, in the canoe, and in navigation. But we need to work on our trekking speed!” stated Bondo after the race.
Dauntless has long considered trekking speed to be one of their weakest disciplines due more to longer race pacing habits.
“In a sprint race — 6 to 9 hours — (like EX2’s VentureQuest or AAR Brake the Habit),” pointed out Rodgers, “we have to go fast all the time. In longer races, you have to pace yourself and your team.”
“But in sprint races, you don’t have the luxury to slow down. Otherwise, you have to make up the time lost trekking with the bike or canoe. And that can be hard if your other teammates are tired.”
“I’m the slow one when it comes to trekking,” Bondo admitted. “I hate running. I love to mountain bike and canoe. But I hate to run!”
Dauntless has been training for the past year to break out of the Sprint Distance (6 to 9 hours) event category and start attacking 12-hour and 24-hour races.
“We would love to take a co-ed team to a 24-hour race,” said Rodgers. “I think we might be ready for that next year considering how well we’ve done this year.”
Rodgers went on to explain that Dauntless had raced as a co-ed team in four events this year with two in the sprint category, and two in the more competitive 12-hour category.
“We don’t need super fast trekking skills in the 12-hour and above races,” stated both Bondo and Rodgers, “We just need the endurance not to stop, not to quit, and not come in last!”
However, they both agreed that without faster trekking skills, making the podium in Sprint distance events like EX2’s VentureQuest will continue to elude them.
“If you max out everything else,” said Bondo, “you still need to work on your weakest disciplines or they just get worse over time.”
Love of the Sport
“We do this sport because we love the challenge,” Bondo admitted. “But we also do it because it’s a thinking sport.”
“You can be a super fast team, but if you cannot navigate or make good route choices, slower teams can beat you. We’ve beat several faster teams this way.”
Rodgers added in, “We also do this sport because others are just plain scared of it.”
“They think it’s some big, scary thing that only super athletes do. Truth is, once you learn the basics, anyone can do this sport. The key is getting a good team together that can work together when things really get hard. That — by far — is the hardest thing about this sport.”
Both Bondo and Rodgers have been adventure racing for almost 5-years with several 3rd and 2nd place finishes under their belts.
“We would love to come in first place some day,” Bondo emoted, “but a big part of this sport is the community factor. Adventure racers are part of a tribe, and it’s cool to just be included in it.”
And now you know.