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Sarah Unruh ’12

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Racing for adventure

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- It’s the exercise. It’s being out in the elements. But mostly it’s the adventure. Aaron Chappell-Deckert and Russell Adrian agree--that’s the draw of endurance racing or adventure racing. The two men competed recently as a team called RAAD (for "Russell Adrian Aaron Deckert") in the Robber’s Cave Breakout at Robber’s Cave State Park near Wilburton, Okla.

The disciplines involved in this race--which started at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning (Feb. 19), had a maximum time allowed of 20 hours and covered about 32 miles--were mountain/park road biking, trekking (long-distance walking over rough terrain), kayaking and orienteering (land navigation).

Unlike events such as marathons or triathlons, adventure racing emphasizes teamwork and simply finishing the race, says Adrian. According to the United States Adventure Racing Association (USARA), this is "one of the few sports where just completing a race is often considered a victory."

Adrian, a Bethel College senior from Butterfield, Minn., is an avid cross-country runner. Chappell-Deckert, resident director for Voth Hall at Bethel College, was a soccer player when he was a Bethel student and in recent years has enjoyed outdoor sports such as mountain biking and rock climbing.

Chappell-Deckert began participating in adventure races a couple of years ago. The Robber’s Cave race was his fourth and Adrian’s first. With a finish deadline under 24 hours, this race was considered a "sprint."

"I’ve been familiar with adventure racing for a long time," Chappell-Deckert says, "but all I knew about were the expedition-length ones, and I don’t have the financial means or the experience for that. But then a friend, Brad Guhr, introduced me to the Sprint Adventure Race in Oklahoma City."

Chappell-Deckert’s other races were in Brighton, Mich., and Guthrie, Okla.

Part of the challenge, Adrian says, is "you don’t know what the race will be until 15 minutes before the start, in the pre-race meeting." It’s possible to explore the general terrain ahead of time, and every race provides a list well in advance of the disciplines and gear required. But the exact course and the way the disciplines will be put together remains a mystery until the last minute.

Although they were a first-time team--and though they expected and trained for a 4- to 6-hour race and instead found themselves in the 12- to 18-hour one--Adrian and Chappell-Deckert finished the race in 13 hours, which was good for a second-place overall finish (out of 29 teams). They were also the second-place two-person male team. Teams can range from two to four members and be same-gender or co-ed.

"The Robber’s Cave race went very smoothly," Chappell-Deckert says. "Russ is great to work with--the navigation went really well." Orienteering, though not a physical skill, can sometimes be the most demanding part of the race, he adds.

Adrian also gives credit to "an awesome transition crew." Adventure races are divided into segments--racers go out and complete a leg of the course using one or more race disciplines, punch their race card and come back in to "transition" to the next leg.

The RAAD transition crew included Kenton and Kevin Nickel, Adrian’s cousins, and his brother-in-law Duane Duerksen, all from Goessel, Kan. "They were a big part of our success, being able to finish in 13 hours," Adrian says.

Besides good navigating, teamwork and transitions, Chappell-Deckert says another highlight of the Robber’s Cave race was "experiencing camaraderie with other racers, especially the Rattlesnake Racing group, a four-person co-ed team from Haskell, Texas."

Chappell-Deckert and Adrian learned how to plot the points needed for the race in the five minutes before it began. Rattlesnake Racing was a "very experienced" endurance racing team, Chappell-Deckert says, and gave the two men a lot of help.

Adrian, who began running cross-country when he came to Bethel College almost four years ago, has run four marathons and at least 40 road races in that time. Now, he says, "I’m becoming addicted to adventure racing. It’s great to be outside. It’s a mental challenge--you’re in the moment and you have to adapt to any situation."

"It tests your trust and communication with the rest of your team," says Chappell-Deckert. It can also test personal control.

He recalled an earlier race where his partner lost the punch-card. Sometimes this can result in disqualification; in this case, the two had an hour automatically added to their finish time. He admits to being "pretty angry" with his team-mate.

However, "It was good preparation for Robber’s Cave, when Russ lost the card," Chappell-Deckert says. "But he remembered exactly where he’d last had it, and we went back and found it."

Adventure racing is about the competition, he says, but "it’s more broadly defined. You’re not out to beat people but to see how far you can go. I like the group dynamics, the teamwork, the healthy aspects of competition.

"Plus it’s great being out in beautiful country. People assume you’re moving too fast to see it, but especially the further you go, the slower you’re going."

"The better you are at navigating, the less physical it is," Adrian adds.

Both he and Chappell-Deckert credit their sports mentors at Bethel College with influencing their love of adventure racing.

"I like [men’s soccer coach] Gerry Sieber’s attitude about fitness, and about pushing yourself and knowing your limits," Chappell-Deckert says. "He taught us you can do whatever you believe you can--as much or as little."

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