Hi-Tec Adventure Race
Hartford, Connecticut
September 8, 2002
Denis Garriepy, Don Hess, and Rob Jagnow

For Denis and Don, this would be their first adventure race - and what a place to get your start. With 330 teams - 112 in the all-male division - the Hartford adventure race was the biggest ever on the east coast. The sight of over 500 inflatable kayaks stacked on the shore was an intimidating reminder that we'd be competing against nearly 1000 other athletes.

The race would be 5 miles of trail running, 1.5 miles of kayaking, and 8 miles of mountain biking with up to ten "special tests" - one of the most distinctive elements of the Hi-Tec Adventure Racing Series.

On Saturday, we attended the clinics, which provided a great deal of practical information about how to improve team performance. Team Sevylor, one of the elite co-ed teams, provided pointers on getting the most control and efficiency out of the Sevylor inflatable kayaks. Team Powerbar dispensed advice on how to conquer "The Wall" - the dreaded 12-foot vertical wall that is the one special test guaranteed to be at every race in the series. The first team member over the wall must be lifted high enough to reach the top of the wall and climb over. After that, a rope can be thrown up and anchored by the first climber to assist the other two teammates.

After the clinics, Denis, Don and I spent the evening formulating a race plan and practicing our wall technique. Our strategy, which was made possible by our height, was to have Denis step from my right thigh to my left shoulders while I stand with my hands straight out against the wall. I could then quickly leg press Denis to the top. By that time, Don could be ready to throw Denis the rope. I'd go up second, and Don third. Everything was ordered. We knew everyone's strengths and weaknesses. Everyone had specific responsibilities.

Sunday morning, we woke early so that we could maximize our time in the transition area, preping ourselves and our gear. The coed teams - both amateur and elite - started first, leaving the starting line at 8 a.m. sharp. We started seven minutes later, which meant that we spent the race battling our way through the coed teams, making it all but impossible to evaluate our standings in the men's division.

As we crossed the starting line, we were handed a map. The first test: Orienteering. This caught us off guard, and since we had no compass, we were a little concerned. But once we oriented ourselves, we found that following the trails to the checkpoints was a reasonable challenge. The Winding Trails Recreation Area proved to be aptly named with dozens of trails criscrossing each other throughout the park. And since different teams had different checkpoints, it was useless trying to follow someone else. We managed to find our three checkpoints in about 15 minutes, but a fair number of teams soon found themselves lost and took more than two hours to complete this section. The lesson: Plan ahead, stay focused, and check the map at every intersection.

Next section: Trail run - although this section might have been more aptly named a "forest run" since there were no real trails to speak of - Just a series of signs with arrows, darting this way and that through the trees. The route through the trees was frequently narrow, so passing other teams took some planning. Denis, Don and I were fairly equally matched as runners, so we made good time, trading the lead position as we wove our way through the coed teams.

At the end of the trail run came two more special tests. The first required climbing an elevated balance beam, about four inches across, at a 45-degree incline, rising about four feet off the ground. To add to the challenge, all team members had to stay linked together. Furthermore, the first climber had to clip a carabiner into a rope at the top of the incline, and the last had to remove it. Once we demystified the instructions, we managed to accomplish the task fairly quickly.

Immediately afterwards was another balance test. Each team was presented with a balance beam, about 20 feet long, formed with 2"x10" boards which were anchored with the narrow side facing up. In the middle of the beam was an open-topped box about 12 inches across. The objective: Get all three teammates across the beam without falling. The added challenge: The first person on the beam must be the last person off. The penalty for falling: All team members must start over again. It should be noted that the challenge would have been more difficult had it required that the last person on be the first person off. As stated, the test required no more than two people to be on the beam at a time. Thankfully, noone fell on the second half of the beam, so we finished the test fairly quickly.

Next up: Kayaks. But before we could even get to the beach, the trail led us through knee deep water. The water itself wasn't so bad, but one of Don's shoes was sucked off by the deep mud. That was a panic moment, but we were lucky enough to find the missing shoe within a few seconds. The kayak leg was two laps around the lake. One catch: For the first lap, the bowman in the two-person kayak had to sit backwards.

We had agreed in advance that I would take the one-man kayak since I was a strong paddler. Since I knew that, under ordinary conditions, Don and Denis could move faster in their kayak than I could in mine, I shot ahead of them on the first lap, assuming they'd catch up on the second lap. I made good time and was passed by only one team - the eventual men's champions - through the entire kayak leg. Rowing backwards cost Don and Denis quite a bit of time, so I finished the leg about three minutes ahead of them.

After reaching the shore, we portaged the kayaks for a few hundred yards, dropped our gear, and headed to our bikes. Along the way, we stopped for a quick test in marksmanship with paintball guns. Since there was no incentive to conserve ammo, we fired madly until we each hit one of the targets. All it took was a few seconds.

The twist on the bike section was that we could only use two bikes for the first four miles. The third teammate would have to run. Initially, our strategy assumed that we could only move as fast as the runner, so we stayed together is a group, swapping bikes whenever a runner became tired. After about two miles, we observed that the elite teams were using a very different stragegy which was much faster than ours. We revised our approach, but by that point, we had already lost a lot of time. Here's my formalized approach to the problem...

Suppose a group of three athletes must race a distance d. The athletes have two bikes, each of which can accomodate only one rider at a time. All three athletes are equally fast and each can run the distance d in time r, or bike the distance d in time b, where b < d. What is the optimal solution for reaching the goal the fastest?

For the last four miles of the bike leg, we each had a bike, so biggest challenge was just weaving our way through the teams - particularly the teams who were still on their first lap of the four-mile loop. The race course was rough with a lot of vertical and some areas of knee-deep mud where the bikes had to be picked up and carried.

Before we could get back to the transition point, we had to face one more obstacle. The test required that we pass all three bikes through a tangled web of ropes. Thankfully, the bikes all had quick-release levers, so we were able to pass the front tires through separately. Denis stood at one side of the rope maze with me in the middle and Don at the other end. This meant that two people at a time could work together to maneuver the bikes through. As we returned to the transition point, the only remaining challenge was The Wall - And we were so ready for it. We had practiced it, played it over and over in our minds - even dreamed about it the night before - and all that mental preparation paid off. We arrived at the wall at the same time as two other teams in our division, so it was critical that we get over first. We did exactly as we had practiced - Denis stood on my shoulders, reached for the top, and pulled himself over. Don threw up the rope, which Denis promptly anchored. I climbed up next, followed immediately by Don. The whole process took about 30 seconds - minutes faster than most of the teams we observed later in the day.

Adrenoline pumping, we sprinted the last 100 feet to the finish line. As we crossed, the officals informed us that we had taken 5th place in our division.

All in all, a perfect weekend. We had a great dynamic as a team, and are looking forward to our next race together. Is it too early to start looking for sponsors?

Don, Rob, and Denis
Hundreds of kayaks, stacked up before the race
Life preservers
Rob, Denis, and Don
The Wall
Bike maze
Rob, Don, and Denis
Top 5, All-Male
Transition area

© Copyright 2002 by Rob Jagnow.