Almost exactly two years ago I had my first glimpse of the coolest sport I’d never heard of. An internet friend posted that he and his team were about to participate in The Berryman Adventure, and he included a link to the race’s online coverage. Out of curiosity, I logged in to check it out and was immediately spellbound. I spent the next 36 hours obsessively cyber-spectating the race, and before it was halfway over I had emailed my brother with a link and a plea: “We HAVE to do this next year!!”
If you ever watched Mark Burnett’s Eco-Challenge or the subsequent Primal Quest, you’ve heard of adventure racing. Teams of 2-4, or in some cases solo racers, navigate an unmarked course using topographical maps and compasses. Adventure races can include several different modes of self-propelled transportation and lengths that vary from a 4-hour sprint to a 5-day expedition, but one element remains constant: all race directors tend to have a sadistic streak, taking great delight in forcing their participants past previous physical limits.
At the time I fell in love with adventure racing, I was just a few short months past my first 5K, a distance which had seemed impossible to me at the beginning of the year. I was training for a half marathon and putting in double digits on my hybrid bike, but my offroad experience was limited to hikes and one ill-fated mountain biking attempt that had resulted in surgery. I didn’t own a mountain bike, couldn’t read a topographical map, and had only the most rudimentary understanding of how a compass worked. In short, I was pretty much the last person one would expect to toe the line at Berryman.
One year later, though, I stood in the early morning darkness, my headlamp barely illuminating the bike I was holding as we sang the National Anthem. A horn signaled the start, and my brother and I rode off on a 14-hour odyssey of challenge, frustration, and utter wish fulfillment. Sometimes you anticipate an event for so long that it can’t possibly live up to your expectations, but this was not one of those times. This is not one of those sports.
I’m about to participate in my seventh adventure race in just over a year, and it’s safe to say I’m hooked. I’ve had incredible experiences: racing through the night, rappelling into a river, and crawling through caves to name a few. I’ve made amazing friends, learned the true meaning of team, found new heroes, and discovered I have more grit than I ever imagined.
A picture my brother took during that first Berryman says it best. He posted it on Facebook with the caption: “Kate, enjoying torture as usual.” Yes, I’ve been hurt, lost, and quite literally at the end of my rope, but through it all I’ve never lost sight of how thrilled I am to be there…even if I’m not positive exactly where “there” is on the map!
Clearly I’m in love with the sport, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. Just don’t be suprised if you find yourself googling adventure races, researching packs, or speculating which of your friends you could convince to spend 12 hours crashing through the woods you. In fact, maybe you should get started…we’re going to have a lot to talk about!