Fitness: Primal Quest
Thursday, 17 September 2009 04:42
Written by Kelly Parker
It was a horror show co-starring feet, and adventure racing’s TV ratings–including the chronicling of the inevitable foot decay that seemed a mainstay–that inspired producer Mark Burnett to create the Survivor series. Adventure racing has disappeared from the listings, but the sport continues to draw enthusiasts who leave the comforts of home behind in favour of 10 punishing days in the wilderness with a map and compass.
This past August, teams from all over the world converged on South Dakota to pit themselves against the best the Badlands could throw at them in the latest Primal Quest race.
There is no such thing as a full-time adventure racer. Winnipeg-based Team Wintec–Subaru Canada, like all adventure racing teams, is made up of people whose passion draws them together from otherwise normal lives to race: Vancouver structural engineer Jim Mandelli, Catherine Alleyn-Dornn, a fitness instructor, Kurt Gibson, a power system supervisor and Alex Man, a geological-environmental engineer. The team has been competing in expedition length races for over ten years, with respectable finishes in previous Primal Quest races, Eco-Challenge, XPD and the Patagonia Expedition Race.
Team training for an adventure race is a difficult thing to arrange, so members adhere to their own training routines, and try to get together at least once a week for three to four hour walks or runs, and as often as possible for more technical training.
On the other hand, there are some aspects of adventure racing that you just can’t train for. “Experience does a lot for you,” explains Man, “but there are always surprises, and you just can’t train for going 22 hours a day, so you just get as fit as you can, and do as many little races as you can to build your
Then there is the foot situation. “In every one of these races, even in a dry climate like this, our feet will take a beating,” explains Man. “Your feet are always wet, and they start to break down before long if you’re not careful.”
The team is expected to show up for the race complete with certifications in wilderness First Aid, and other similar ratings, as well as all of their own equipment, food and clothing–the required gear is very specific, and teams who don’t come so equipped are turned away. Only the boats are supplied. Most of Team Wintec-Subaru’s gear has been acquired through years of adventure racing, but Man says each member still ends up spending roughly a thousand dollars per race for repairs or upgrades with help from team sponsors.
The Primal Quest: Badlands race got underway in the middle of the night on August 14, 2009 and ran for 10 days through an imposing array of disciplines from running and swimming to cave orienteering. Asked before the race about the team’s goal, Man says that simply finishing is a major accomplishment, although his personal best is a 16th, so he’ll be trying to better that for the almost 1000-kilometer course.
Space limitations preclude a play-by-play of the team’s race, although Man details a sampling of high and lowlights:
The High Point:
“The ropes course. These guys put on a world-class jungle gym for adults–a huge 250-foot rappel into this spire-filled canyon, across a gully, and then a 250-foot ascent back up on the other side. Then it was a zip-line from one spire to another, then another rappel, and some free climbing. It was fantastic.”
Cool, wet weather prevailed, with the team forced at one point to take a break from racing to wait out a violent thunderstorm. “I think it kind of helped us, being a team from a cold country. We got the right clothes on at the right time, and stayed relatively dry. What makes it really hard is trying to rest in the dark, and you’re freezing cold–just on the verge of hypothermia–it was down in the 30s there (just over 0°C).”
“I think everybody was just shocked at how long (the Cheyenne River paddle) was. As the crow flies, it was probably a 40-mile paddle, but counting all of the meanders, it was probably in the 70-mile range. Every hundred meters, you’d bottom out in these two-person white water rafts, so you’d have to get out and push, drag or scooter these things in some way before getting back in to continue paddling.”
The Low Point:
“We had just finished the ropes section and we were to find and follow an unmarked trail. We scoured the area where the trailhead was described to be located, but could only find a faint, old trail that didn’t look like much more than a cow path. We took a leap of faith and gave it a shot–a navigator’s worst nightmare. The temperature was dropping into the 30s, and Kurt was hallucinating–he thought I was a Subway sandwich artist and out of the blue asked me for a wrap instead of a bun! These team low points are difficult to describe; everyone is hurting and just about falling asleep; our feet are burning and nobody is talking. If we stop moving, we freeze, so we started a fire and tried, at least, to get some sleep. As soon as it got light enough, we were able to confirm that we were in the correct valley, but the trail just lead us to a maze of logging roads that were not on the map–another navigator’s nightmare. After exploring several, we decided to resort to good old Canadian-style bushwhacking which got us to the next checkpoint.”
For the record, through it all; thunderstorms, hypothermia-inducing nights, hoodoo zip lining, sandwich artist hallucinations, and the mother of all river paddles, the collective feet of Team Wintec-Subaru Canada held up just fine and carried them to a 12th-place finish, almost exactly eight days after they entered the course.
Photography by Wouter Kingma, www.orangeexpressions.com