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Adventure bound
Thrill seekers mix it up while pushing their mind/body limits


February 3, 2012

First it was the marathon, then the triathlon; now itís adventure racing for thrill-seeking athletes. Adventure racing takes the running, biking, paddling and distance from other endurance sports, but ramps up the challenge for participants, from drill sergeant "encouragement" to overnight races and mud pits.

"The beauty of an adventure race is that each one is slightly different," says Andy McCarthy, race director for Wisconsin Adventure Racing Society, known as WARS. "While adventure racing is truly a tough endurance sport, adding navigation into the mix of the race gives the event a mental challenge along with the physical challenge," McCarthy says.

Ready to mix up your race season in 2012? Here are some adventure races on this yearís calendar.

Race: Stubborn Mule Adventure Race

Course: 12-hour or 30-hour courses with teams of two to four people racing through the core adventure racing disciplines ó biking (road and mountain/off-road), trekking/running, land navigation/orienteering, paddling, and team challenge events


There is no set course for these events. Teams must work together using only a map and compass combined with their physical and mental strength to choose their own routes to get their team as quickly as possible from point A to point B, says Paula Waite of Stubborn Mule and 180 Adventure. "The best teams are those that can help each other pull through the most challenging parts of the race," says veteran adventure racer Beth Liebhardt of Wauwatosa. "I really enjoy training and pushing myself to do things that I didnít think were possible. It is mind over matter, and everyone on the team struggles during different parts of the race." 

Race: Southern Kettle Moraine Challenge Fall Adventure Race

Course: Seven to nine miles of mountain biking, 35 to 45 miles of road biking, five miles of paddling, trekking and some running with the aid of two navigation maps

Teams: Four-person coed teams or two-person teams


"The SKMC is normally a 10- to 12-hour event, however we occasionally will have overnight races of 18 to 20 hours of length, which makes the event a bit harder with night navigation," says Andy McCarthy. Race participant Daniel DeBehnke of Hartland says he has gained lots of new skills since his first adventure race 10 years ago, such as kayaking, riverboarding, navigating and climbing ropes. "The thing that I love about adventure racing is that itís unpredictable. You often are unsure of what the race will entail until the day of the event. That adds excitement," he says. "I also like the fact that itís a team sport. The team can only go as fast as the weakest member, and itís the team support of one another, carrying gear, helping with food, etc., that makes the race so rewarding."

Race: Madison Mud Run

Course: Participants encounter about 15 obstacles over the five-mile course


Billed as Madisonís dirtiest race, the mud run is held twice a year and challenges participants to climb walls and cargo nets, navigate water crossings and inflatable obstacles, and survive the famous mud pit. Aminda OíHare made her adventure race debut last year ó and her first race ever ó at the mud run. "I loved the mud run because it was like being a kid again, especially with everyone running in costume," she says. "Everyone was cheering everyone else along and helping with obstacles when needed. For someone who wasnít even sure if sheíd be able to finish the race, it was a great environment to keep me going!"

Race: Rockman Challenge

Course: Canoe three miles, bike 13.5 miles, three miles of trail running, military-style obstacle course

Cause: Proceeds benefit Bethesda Lutheran Communities


Dave OíMalley was among the 248 participants from nine states in last yearís inaugural race. A seasoned triathlete, OíMalley says the obstacle course at the end of the race was a challenge. "They even had drill sergeants in fatigues generously dishing out verbal abuse to the participants. One in particular spurred me on by telling me to ĎGet going grandpa.í I think that did agitate me enough to pick up the pace," OíMalley jokes.

Race: Frozen Otter Ultra Trek

Date: Jan. 21

Where: Kettle Moraine State Forest ó Northern Unit


What They Say: The Frozen Otter Ultra Trek is by far one of the toughest races in the Midwest and with roughly a 2 percent completion rate, possibly the country. Racers traverse 64 miles of Wisconsinís hilly terrain left in the wake of the great Wisconsin Glacier. As if the sheer feat of conquering the mileage isnít enough, racers must do it completely self-supported, on trail, in the dead of winter.

Race: Dirty Girl

Date: Aug. 18

Where: Camp Whitcomb/Mason, Hartland


What They Say: This female-only, 5K mud run is designed for women of all fitness levels. The 11 military-inspired obstacles are fun and unique but with just enough challenge to keep your palms a bit sweaty. The entire event is designed to be organic and eco-friendly. In fact, many of the obstacles are recycled back into the earth.

Race: Tough Mudder

Date: Oct. 13 and 14

Where: Devilís Head Resort, Merrimac


What They Say: Tough Mudder is not a race. Itís supposed to be a personal challenge ó the goal is simply to complete the course. The race tests all-round toughness, strength, fitness, mental grit and camaraderie in every environment imaginable. 


This story ran in the January 2012 issue of: