A More Adventurous Race

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June 23, 2012 by David Gillaspie

One of life’s great mysteries is the Adventure Race.

It seems more people sign up for these things every year. What is the draw? What needs are fulfilled in an environment once reserved for tribal relocation and Prisoners of War?

My experience with Adventure Racing is short.

Remember a game called ‘stretch’ where two players faced each other with one screwdriver and threw it at the ground beside their opponent’s feet? If it stuck in the ground the player moved his foot to the hole. If it stuck in the opponent’s foot, it was an automatic disqualification.

Seeing that once was enough, like the Mount Marathon Adventure Race.

But it wasn’t, so I signed up with something called a Hood To Coast Relay team. After training hard to be the weakest link on that team it was sad to see other members run slower than me. I’ve avoided the team captain in subsequent years in case he has another killer, or kill-me, idea.

Maybe the draw to Adventure Racing is mortality?

Death shouldn’t be in the title of any sporting activity. It has a place in the Bataan Death March, but why tag an adventure race, where $900 gets you to Vermont for the Spartan Death Race. Be forewarned of their advertisement: You May Die. It’s very dramatic, and a better slogan than the WWII Japanese reality of “We Will Kill You If You Surrender.”

The Bataan Death March didn’t have a webpage or a sellout event with a waiting list. There was no celebration at the end.  Soldiers died before the march, during the march, and after.

Go too slow and you’d find a helpful inspiration from the tip of a bayonet bloodied from the last person it poked; fall down and a truck might swerve to run over you, which in no way indicts bad drivers, just the sadistic ones running over exhausted POWs in the Philippines.

The Spartan Death Race won’t have men on horseback taking practice swings at your neck with their samurai swords. But you will get a forty eight hour race with a dropout rate of 90%. Finish that and you are somebody special, one in ten.

They say it best. From spartanrace.com:

This is highest level of Spartan Challenge. The Spartan Death Race is designed to present you with the totally unexpected, and the totally insane! Traditional physical challenges will make giving birth look like a walk in the park. This endurance race is comprised of mud runs, obstacle racing, trail racing, physical challenges and mental challenges all in a +48 hour adventure race. 90% of you will not complete this endurance race. Please only consider this adventure style race if you have lived a full life to date.

You can make a similar numerical claim for the 76,000 on the Bataan Death March. The end is the big difference maker. Finishers got three and a half more years of war-time Japanese hospitality. For their effort, the administrators of the Bataan Death March were tried as war criminals and executed.

Maybe the thirst for adventure races goes deeper. In 1830 the Trail of Tears opened from southeastern America to present day Oklahoma. The participants were often barefoot, poorly clothed, and going out in winter without food. To stay warm they received disease-ridden blankets.

Alexis de Tocqueville was no sportswriter, but he filed this report:

“In the whole scene there was an air of ruin and destruction, something which betrayed a final and irrevocable adieu; one couldn’t watch without feeling one’s heart wrung. The Indians were tranquil, but sombre and taciturn. There was one who could speak English and of whom I asked why the Chactas were leaving their country. “To be free,” he answered, could never get any other reason out of him. We … watch the expulsion … of one of the most celebrated and ancient American peoples.”

Stress and strain builds character, the same way marketing guru Seth Godin says honesty and dependability builds trust.

Trust and character.

If doing the Spartan Death Race helps build trust and character, then it’s hard to complain, but don’t confuse the characteristics in those racers with marchers under the gun. For them, trust and character was the true grit in a soul tested beyond humanity.

If Adventure Races put a little of that into the contestants, then they start to make more sense.

(posted on oregonsportsnews.com)

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