Participating in the Project Athena Keys Race to Recovery in November, 2012 was life changing in more ways than one. Not only did PA teach me the 8 Essential Elements of Human Synergy (TEAMWORK), they taught me that in order to experience change one must be challenged; step outside that proverbial comfort zone. I don’t remember ever being physically challenged when I was growing up. Mental challenges, sure; all the time. I’m 41 years old, and now that I’ve hit the middle part of my life, I am physically challenging myself every single day. I met a lot of amazing people on my PA adventure, had a lot of interesting conversations, but one conversation stuck with me throughout my trek, then followed me back home, and continued to taunt me until I knew I had no choice but to follow through with it.
On night two of our adventure, I had a chat with one of our “trail angels.” This man is an amazing athlete and he volunteered his own time and expertise to help make sure we completed our adventure. He’s an Army Ranger, and does some sort of “hush-hush” work with the government. Some would call him intimidating. And he is. But he’s also generous and inspiring. It was during our conversation that I learned that there existed this whole “other world” of racing. Being a newbie in the fitness world, I knew of races like triathlons, and marathons, and events like the Warrior Dash and off-road runs (like the one I did at Honeymoon Island in 2012), but I thought that this is where it stopped. But I was wrong; oh so wrong! This “other world” in racing is called Expedition/Adventure Racing. And it sounded totally amazing and totally up my alley!
Mr. Army Ranger told me of his exploits as an expedition racer. And I also learned that the leader of the Project Athena Foundation, Robyn Benincasa is a world class expedition athlete, a two-time Adventure Racing World Champion, and two-time Guinness World Record distance kayaker. I got tips and lessons from the best there is!!
Adventure racing is a combination of two or MORE endurance sports/skills and can last anywhere from a few hours (sprint) to more than 10 days!! Athletes often find themselves cross-country running, mountain biking, paddling, climbing, and using other rope skills. They often also have to be pretty dang good navigators, as the course is typically not marked. Project Athena had provided me with my first taste of an expedition race and I was hooked. I biked, I ran, I paddled, and I pushed myself in order to change myself. And I worked as part of a team. Expedition races are comprised of TEAMS of people. Depending on the event you choose, you will have specific rules to follow regarding how you set up your teams.
But I’m getting off on a tangent here.
Mr. Army Ranger told me that he thought I was a pretty good expedition racer for never having done this sort of thing before, and he gave me the name of a man he knew in Tampa that hosted Expedition/Adventure races and told me I should contact him when we returned from the Keys.
When we returned from the Keys, life happened. First it was Thanksgiving, then the kids all caught Influenza A , then it was Christmas, then the new year, then Haley’s birthday, etc, etc, etc., and this man’s name slipped from my mind, but the idea of expedition racing didn't. By sheer chance I heard his name again during a cycle class. My ears perked up, and suddenly this mystery man’s name was forever ingrained in my brain.
I came home from cycle class and immediately looked him up on Google, found the name of his company, friended them on Facebook and sent him a Facebook message.
And that is the L.O.N.G. story (and honestly I left a lot out) on how I got connected with Kip Koelsch, owner of Endeavor Racing and a phenomenal expedition racer himself!
Kip invited me to attend the Citrus Trail Marathon series on March 17, 2013. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t grow up being physically challenged. I don’t want that for my children. I want them to push their body, to know what it feels like to work hard, AND have fun while they are doing it. I asked Kip if I could bring along one of my children to participate in the race as well. When he graciously said YES, I knew I’d immediately bring Ella, my little 7 year old runner, and we signed up for the 4 mile course.
Ella and I trained together, and she trained alone. Together we ran on the Cypress Creek Trail near our home, and alone she ran a one mile loop through our neighborhood. She was ready, she was excited, and before we knew it, the time for the race was upon us!
We woke up bright and early on St. Patrick’s Day to make the commute to Citrus County. It was a cold morning, in the upper 40's at our house, but as we traveled north, I watched the temperature drop, the elevation increase, and the the fog move in. Ella and I chatted, and she fiddled with her iPod.
Dressed in our green shirts and black pants, we made it to our destination with about 25 minutes to spare! Thankfully we had our jackets to help keep us warm. Also, since this was a trail run, I knew liquids would be limited, so I made the decision to wear my Camelbak, though only filled it with 50L of water instead of the 100L that it can hold. I have NEVER run with it before, only cycled and paddled, but I figured the "nothing new on race day" would not pertain to this race since I would be going at a 7 year old's pace.
We checked in, I met Kip in person, dropped my jacket and we were off!
This course was so well marked! There was virtually no chance of missing a turn-off!
And notice Ella has her jacket off. And her gloves. My Camelbak came in handy for more than just water! I also ended up toting her gear! Totally fine
Once Ella got comfortable with her body temperature, she found her pace, and we were making really good time! We quickly came upon our first aid/water station. It was a 7 year old's delight! But I reminded her that we were racing for time, so take a quick water and let's go!
She was having so much fun she even danced along to her music! She never complained, she never lost her footing, she never said "I can't do this" or "this is too hard." She just ran, and laughed, and danced. And that my friends is what it is all about. Teaching our children that exercise is FUN and that they can do anything!
We kept following signs, and quickly the finish line was upon us. Ella stopped running when she saw the sign that said "finish line left." I always stayed a few paces behind her, so when I saw her stop, I yelled at her, "Ella, give it all you got, the finish line is right up ahead" and wouldn't you know it, that little girl just emptied her tank. She sprinted like I have never seen her sprint and BAM, she was across that finish line! I came in a few seconds behind her.
There was yummy watermelon, cold beer, pizza, cupcakes, bagels, water, and Gatorade for the post-race refreshments. Ella and I both had some watermelon, and she had Gatorade and I had beer.
Beer was provided by Total Air of Tampa. And both Stephanie and Aaron of Total Air were on site, participating in the event; Stephanie did the 10K and Aaron did the Marathon. Local people supporting a local race. Awesome.
Overall between all the distance events (and there were 4; 4 mile, 10 mile, marathon and 50K) there were approximately 120 runners. It was a nice, family atmosphere. Kids of all ages, and dogs, too :) No dogs on the trail though, or you know I would have brought Matthew!
Endeavor Racing puts on great races, with great prices, and it's a great way to get your kids involved in adventure racing! Their next event is April 13, 2013 and it's a 10K- River N Rapids 10k and a Fun Run, too. Kip invited us back out, but we can't make this race. Haley has a cheerleading competition in Orlando and then Ella and I are running in Iron Girl Clearwater the following day. But if Haley didn't have cheerleading, we'd totally be doing back to back races.
But we will certainly be participating in the Life's A Beach Triathlon in September in Sarasota. The kids will do it, too!! And as other dates for events get announced, I'm hopeful that I'll be able to add them to my packed race schedule, and I'll bring along a kid.
If you are a seasoned expedition racer, or a novice like me, Endeavor Racing has something for you!! From a 4 mile jaunt, to a 50K ass kicking, you should certainly check them out!
Step outside your comfort zone. Challenge yourself. And never look back.