Monday, September 12, 2005

Sufferfest 2005

The term "Adventure Race" was coined by journalist and author Martin Dugard but he was a sideliner not a participant. If coined by a runner, he/she would have to have a short memory because when you're in the thick of one, it is neither adventurous nor a race. For most mortals, an adventure race is an oxymoron. It's more like a sufferfest survival. Whatever you call it, crazy is what most call the competitors. One such competitor is Backcountry.com athlete Joe Holland. I caught up with Joe this past week to see how things are shaping up for his next "Adventure Race" across the Sahara Desert.

What goes through your head when you sign up for a race that will take you across the Sahara desert?
Joe: Last week I finalized my itinerary to Cairo which means there is no looking back and I will be running through the Sahara desert. From an adventure standpoint, this excites me tremendously and I have started reading books on Egypt and will undoubtedly see some cool stuff. At the Gobi Desert race in April, the Racing The Planet staff set an amazing course through very remote places with amazing geologic features. There is simply no better way to intimately experience a new land and culture than running through it with ones heart pounding and senses heightened. What scares me is the unknown. What did I forget? How do I prevent injuries? During the Gobi/China race I excelled in the mountain stages but I am a little concerned about my chances in the Sahara as there is very little vertical. However, if the footing and terrain is soft or rocky then the years of skiing, and related agility training, should pay dividends.

How does a guy living in Vermont train for a race of this magnitude?
Joe: A natural runner I am not but my wife tells me that I am relentless like one of those little dogs that bite your ankle. Fortunately I have a border collie named Schmitty and she waits patiently for me to return from work when she looks as me with endless ambition. She can run all day. On the weekends Schmitty and I hit the trails in both the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the Green Mountains of Vermont where we run 2 to 4 hours. Once a month we do an 8 hour run. During the week we often do a 1-2 hour run and a day at the track in an attempt to regain some speed. I have no idea whether doing speed is a good thing to do when preparing for an ultra event but we always did it for XC Skiing and it keeps me honest. I might add that the courses are often set on challenging terrain that most people would not consider running on so my training goal is to replicate these conditions. Just find the most challenging terrain and try to run it. Recently I ran all 10 of the 4K foot presidential's in the White Mountains and it rained the entire time. That was a good simulation.

Is there anything you fear?
Joe: The lack of fear should scare me. Getting dehydrated is no fun and hopefully I have the sense to avoid this. Getting lost off course is no fun and we may consider GPS assistance this time. Fatigue, discomfort and pain is imminent but not feared. I try to explain to people that these endurance events are challenging but not significantly more than balancing a long day a work with family responsibilities etc. In fact, in many ways it is easier because all one has to do is get up, eat, drink and explore a new place while running. There is no work, family, cell phones or e-mail in the desert so all you can do is live in the moment and enjoy. I have only had moderate success convincing people of this.

If a band of wandering nomads takes you captive during the race, what will you do?
Joe: As long as they are a harem of super model gypsies, I can handle it.

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