The Edge Adventure Race: A Race Recap and Lessons Learned

Taking a look at race maps and plotting our plan of attack before race start.
For those of us who love testing ourselves physically and mentally, adventure racing just might be the perfect multi-sport pursuit.

My first exposure to adventure racing was in 2008 during a clinic through TerraMar Adventures and GOALS ARA. I competed in a sprint adventure race in 2008, and when a note about the last race of the 2012 season put on by GOALS ARA appeared in my inbox, I knew I had to take advantage.

I found a friend crazy enough to sign up for a race we hadn't trained for three weeks in advance, and registered us as a two-woman team for The Edge.

There are five basic types of adventure races: sprint, 12-hour, single-day, multi-day and expedition races. The last race of the 2012 season, The Edge was a sprint race, which meant we only had to complete mountain biking, running and paddling legs, and we had a six hour time cutoff. I knew that though we hadn't done sport-specific training, we could both handle a shorter race. Single-day races like The Cradle of Liberty have a 24 hour time cutoff. Multi-day and expedition races usually involve additional challenges like advanced navigation, even extensive rope work (rapelling) and horseback riding, plus the added bonus of sleep deprivation.

Listening to race day instructions during a team debriefing.
When my teammate and I arrived at Washington Crossing State Park, we checked in and received our maps along with course directions. Our packet included one large map with foot and bike checkpoints, a separate map with additional bike, and a third map with canoe checkpoints. All bike and foot checkpoints were worth one point and all canoe checkpoints were worth two. The goal of the day was to accumulate as many points as possible in less than six hours by finding as many checkpoints as we could.  According to course designer Bruce Wong, the course was set up so only the elite teams would be able to clear it under the time cap. (Yikes!) In longer races, teams may receive a list of coordinates for the checkpoints and have to plot them using orienteering skills. Luckily, ours were pre-plotted for us.

All teams started with an opening activity, which turned out to be a mad dash for six checkpoints on foot. After completing that, we received our race passports and learned whether we'd be biking or paddling first. We'd be completing approximately five miles of running/trekking/orienteering, ten miles of mountain biking and five miles of canoe paddling depending on the routes we chose to reach our checkpoints. Our passport had us biking first, which I was glad for. We'd have a chance to rest our legs in the canoe before finishing the race on foot.

Ferrying across the Delaware River. I didn't know
what ferrying was until race day!
So, how did we do? On the bike section, the course was divided into a set of checkpoints do-able for novice riders and a more challenging section for experienced riders. We cleared as many checkpoints as we could on the "easy" section and opted to try the harder section. After climbing what seemed like an endless hill, we cleared three of the dozen advanced rider checkpoints before realizing we'd already spent two hours on the bike. We made a beeline back to the transition area to get our paddling gear.

The beginning of the paddling section was straightforward - a paddle up a canal with two mandatory portages. The second half required some serious skills, including ferrying across the fast-moving Delaware River. (Thankfully, my teammate does a lot of whitewater kayaking!) We skipped two checkpoints a mile up the canal in favor of staying on our two-hour-per-discipline track. We were both exhausted by the time the foot section came around, but cleared as many checkpoints as we could before heading to the finish line at the 5h36m mark. We ended up with 36 out of 54 possible points.
Clearing a checkpoint on the foot section of the race.
Orange orienteering flags were the checkpoint indicators.

Though this was my second try at The Edge, the experience reinforced some important lessons. First, the right gear and the right system for using it can help you make up a ton of time. Though my teammate and I didn't intend to contend for a spot on the podium, we could've saved time on our transitions. Teams with the goal of being competitive should practice transitions during training and organize the transition area by discipline. In many cases, you won't know if you're biking, paddling or running first until the day of the race, so group the gear you need to make it easy to find. This includes nutritional needs.

Choosing the right team is one of the most important parts of adventure racing. During the intro to adventure racing series with GOALS back in 2008, instructor Bill Gibbons told us how important it was that everyone on our team went into the race with the same goals. If one person is competitive while the others prefer a more casual approach, you're going to run into problems. Of course, there are things like fitness, navigation skills and general abilities to consider when choosing teammates, but if Lauren and I had approached the day differently, it wouldn't have been as much fun. 

It's absolutely possible to have a good time, even if you're not even close to winning. The coolest thing about sprint adventure races is that you get to spend a comfortable amount of time running around in the woods on what's quite similar to a giant scavenger hunt. Six hours was just long enough for me to feel like we accomplished something, but short enough that I had time left in the day for a solid dinner and a load of laundry. One-day races could be fun, but expedition races involve so much sleep deprivation that I'm not entirely sure how I'd handle it. For all of you mountaineers and ultrarunners out there, you're used to sleep deprivation! The longer races might be better for you.

Thanks to GOALS ARA for an amazing day! I really had a blast, and can't wait for The Edge in 2013. Have you ever done an adventure race? If you haven't, would you? What length race would you be willing to sign up for?


Heather Balogh said…
This looks like such a fun race! We should do one together-- one day!
Heidi Henry said…
Sounds like a blast. I have yet to do one of these but it's on my bucket list!
Katie said…
you, Heather and I should do one! how much fun would that be?!