Eco-Challenge Adventure Racing School 1997
|In 1983 I did my first triathlon.
It had a kind of new, funky "cult" feeling
to it. There was only one or two races in Michigan,
only a few people in each. We were considered exotic
athletes. The event was "extreme". In
1986 I did my first Ironman: Hawaii. About five
people from Michigan had done an Ironman.
Today, at least 15
people from Dearborn have finished an Ironman,
and well over a hundred in Michigan. What was
once "exotic" is now a reasonable and
attainable goal for dedicated fitness athletes.
What's the next step? Adventure
Sahara Desert, Marathon Des Sables 1999.
|Mark Burnett's Eco-Challenge and serialized,
sensationalized "Survivor" television
drama have put outdoor adventure competitions at
the top of the fastest growing sports.
Point Mugu Adventure Race 1997
|All the elements line up: Drama, outdoor
exposure, team interaction and competition. The
new lifestyle points people toward adventure racing.
Sport utility vehicles have been popular for years.
They are marketed to a new demographic who feel
an association (real or imagined) to the outdoor,
extreme lifestyle. The influx of females into endurance
sports is larger now than ever. Every time females
solidify their roles in endurance sports it brings
more females into the fold. Endurance sports empower
every person who participates, without regard for
gender. Being empowered feels good.
|Many sports are labeled "fastest
growing", but adventure racing seems poised
for a real explosion.
Navigation at Eco-Challenge School.
Team Phoenix #39 at Eco-Challenge British Columbia
|The sport is not without its problems
though. Expedition style races like Raid Gauloises
are inaccessible and dangerous for novice competitors.
They require a range of skills that take years to
acquire and perfect. This accounts for pitifully
low finish rates among teams. In an Ironman distance
triathlon, usually well over 90% of the field finish.
It is unusual for more than 15% of a field from
an expedition length adventure race to finish.
|Environmental issues are so profound
that outdoor guru Yvon Chounaird, founder of Patagonia,
lambasted the sport saying "Very little of
what these people are doing is adventure".
Eco-Challenge founder Mark Burnett took his event
outside the United states after the 1995 Utah race
because of complications dealing with the Bureau
of Land Management (and difficulty recovering a
six figure "bond" he put up against environmental
damage the race may have done). Adventure races
can have a negative impact on the environment if
not properly administered.
|Finding team members and organizing
travel and logistics are big jobs, usually larger
than the race itself. For all the teams who set
out to "do an adventure race", probably
only 1 in 20 make it to the start line. Getting
to the start is as hard as getting to the finish.
First River Crossing, Eco-Challenge B.C.
99 Marathon Des Sables
|As a result the sport
is evolving. Shorter events with a more accessible
format are exploding. The Hi-Tec Adventure Racing
Series is the premier series in the U.S. A 3-6 hour
duration event that requires simple skills and a
small team that can either be co-ed or same gender;
these races are competitor friendly. Tomorrow's
Eco-Challenge competitors will come from today's
Hi-Tec Series finishers. Just like triathlons. It's
the next logical step.
|In 1996 I did Eco-Challenge
British Columbia. I went to the Eco-Challenge Adventure
Racing School. In 1999 I did the Marathon Des Sables
(a solo running, 152 mile adventure race across
the Sahara in Morocco) and the Antarctic Marathon.
Last year I did the Pathfinder Challenge in Northern
Michigan. In each of these events- from British
Columbia to the Sahara to the Antarctic, I saw familiar
faces and had the feeling of a sport ready to explode.
A new horizon with the same feeling I got on the
pier in Hawaii in 1986. This year I'm headed back
to the desert for the Desert Cup, a 105-mile, non-stop
solo adventure-running race through the sands of
Jordan in the Middle East. It feels like starting
over again. A new sport with a new future and new
wonder and promise.
96 Eco-Challenge Race Start.
In 1984 an exercise
physiologist from a prominent California university
said, "No one can complete an Ironman distance
event without sustaining significant physiological
damage." Perhaps these are the same people
saying that Eco-Challenge and Raid Gauloises is
"crazy", "extreme" or "impossible".
To me, it is the next logical step.