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ENDracing November news

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Fall wrap-up - 

We've been busy over the past month!  Late October saw me making my way out to Moab to participate as part of team Yogaslackers in the Checkpoint tracker Adventure Racing National championship.  I barely made it as flight cancellations forced an overnight drive from Grand Forks down to Minneapolis in order to just make a last minute connection to Las Vegas where another long drive got us to Moab just at the tail end of registration, proving once again that often the hardest part of adventure racing is getting to the start line!  We (Yogaslackers) went hard and crossed the finish line in 2nd place, nearly two hours ahead of third, and 20 minutes behind first place Team Osprey, arguably one of the top 10 teams in the world at the moment.  Unfortunately, six hours of penalties levied to both teams took us back to 7th and 10th place respectively.  Those interested in a bit more detail on this somewhat controversial turn of events can find the 'official' explanation by CP tracker here, and Yogaslacker's take on things by reading through the post comments.  As a result of the race, I realized how far behind the rest of the team I am in terms of biking ability and now have my work cut out for me in order to get stronger before Yogaslacker's next big race, the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge which takes place Dec. 10-15.

In other news - ENDracing's next event, the Extreme North Dakota Iceman Triathlon (END-IT), is slated to open registration on December 1st.  The planning committee is having weekly meetings and things are starting to come together.  The race will be held at the same location as last year but the individual sections of the course will be slightly different.  Because we are expecting a bigger field, we're hoping to improve the mass start, streamline the transition area, and have a large warming tent (in addition to the warming hut) to accommodate the larger numbers.  All the cool stuff (sledding, 'cliff jumping', off trail biking and running) will of course remain a part of the experience.  We've also recently secured a title sponsor - Talus Outdoor Technologies - a company that makes fabulous extreme cold weather headgear that is perfect for winter training.  We're psyched to be partnering with them and want to extend a big thank you for their support in helping to make this year's race better than ever.  We'll soon start offering discounts on their products through our website - some of the proceeds of which will back to fund future ENDracing activities.  In addition, folks who sign up for END-IT will be offered a special code for a one time special deal on Talus gear so that they can get some and get training, no matter how cold it gets in the coming months!  Finally, as was the case last year, all profits from this year's event will be put directly back into local non-profit organizations to help them do what they do.

Finally, I'd like report that the Grand Forks Cyclocross series ended the last weekend with it's third race.  I participated in the last two races and had a blast.  Cylcocross is often called the 'hardest hour in cycling' and I found this to be an apt description.  Both races were awesome courses and well executed by the UND cycling club.  Their next event is an ice-bike race in celebration of Valentines day - scheduled for Feb. 13th.  Hey - that sounds like a perfect opportunity to practice your winter biking skills in preparation for the the Iceman triathlon!

Cheers  -

Andy
ENDracing Team

Fall Wrap-Up

We've been busy over the past month!  Late October saw me making my way out to Moab to participate as part of team Yogaslackers in the Checkpoint tracker Adventure Racing National championship.  I barely made it as flight cancellations forced an overnight drive from Grand Forks down to Minneapolis in order to just make a last minute connection to Las Vegas where another long drive got us to Moab just at the tail end of registration, proving once again that often the hardest part of adventure racing is getting to the start line!  We (Yogaslackers) went hard and crossed the finish line in 2nd place, nearly two hours ahead of third, and 20 minutes behind first place Team Osprey, arguably one of the top 10 teams in the world at the moment.  Unfortunately, six hours of penalties levied to both teams took us back to 7th and 10th place respectively.  Those interested in a bit more detail on this somewhat controversial turn of events can find the 'official' explanation by CP tracker here, and Yogaslacker's take on things by reading through the post comments.  As a result of the race, I realized how far behind the rest of the team I am in terms of biking ability and now have my work cut out for me in order to get stronger before Yogaslacker's next big race, the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge which takes place Dec. 10-15.
 
In other news - ENDracing's next event, the Extreme North Dakota Iceman Triathlon (END-IT), is slated to open registration on December 1st.  The planning committee is having weekly meetings and things are starting to come together.  The race will be held at the same location as last year but the individual sections of the course will be slightly different.  Because we are expecting a bigger field, we're hoping to improve the mass start, streamline the transition area, and have a large warming tent (in addition to the warming hut) to accommodate the larger numbers.  All the cool stuff (sledding, 'cliff jumping', off trail biking and running) will of course remain a part of the experience.  We've also recently secured a title sponsor - Talus Outdoor Technologies - a company that makes fabulous extreme cold weather headgear that is perfect for winter training.  We're psyched to be partnering with them and want to extend a big thank you for their support in helping to make this year's race better than ever.  We'll soon start offering discounts on their products through our website - some of the proceeds of which will back to fund future ENDracing activities.  In addition, folks who sign up for END-IT will be offered a special code for a one time special deal on Talus gear so that they can get some and get training, no matter how cold it gets in the coming months!  Finally, as was the case last year, all profits from this year's event will be put directly back into local non-profit organizations to help them do what they do.
 
Finally, I'd like report that the Grand Forks Cyclocross series ended the last weekend with it's third race.  I participated in the last two races and had a blast.  Cylcocross is often called the 'hardest hour in cycling' and I found this to be an apt description.  Both races were awesome courses and well executed by the UND Cycling Club.  Their next event is an ice-bike race in celebration of Valentines day - scheduled for Feb. 13th.  Hey - that sounds like a perfect opportunity to practice your winter biking skills in preparation for the the Iceman Triathlon!
 
Cheers  -
 
Andy
ENDracing Team

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ENDracing's stance on the rogaine question

Stephen Regenold eyeing his map during a rogaine.

If you don't know what the rogaine question is, then have a look here to get up to speed.  Since you're reading this blog it's probably relevant - either you're a fan of adventure racing or an actual advenutre racer.  As an adventure race director, i just thought i'd take a minute to explain ENDracing's thoughts on the place of rogaines in adventure races so that you'll know where we stand on the subject and be fully informed before forking over your hard earned dollars to participate in one of our events.

Sean, the author of the piece linked to above, obviously has some pretty strong feelings about the presence of rogaine sections in adventure races (hence his choice of words such as cancerous), and while i certainly share many of his concerns - particularly in light of my recent experience of being penalized 6 hours for a misinterpretation of the rules during a rogaine section at the AR national championships a couple of weeks ago - i do feel that they have a place, if appropriately managed, in AR.  Here's why:

In order to be viable, a race has to attract a minimum number of teams. The differences in team abilities and therefore speed is more dramatic in AR than any other endurance sport i've participated in, as it's attractive to a select group of professional athletes as well as very amateur weekend warrior types.  I feel that the difficulty facing a race director (RD) is to create a course that pushes top teams so that they feel suitably challenged but remains accessible to less capable athletes.  Granted, some RD's don't feel this way and there are races out there where maybe 3/4 of the field will simply not finish - in fact, some set out to create a course with this high level of attrition.  But i'm convinced that there is a way to have a course and race that is tough for seasoned racers and rookies alike - and i think a well designed rogaine section is a useful tool towards this end. 

Sean presents the idea that clover-leaf race formats where the course includes several 'loops' that return to a central spot (most likely a TA) would also accomodate differences in team abilities.  My concern with solely relying on such a format is that the only option for a slow team in this case is to skip an entire section.  Personally, when i design a course, i put some awesome stuff in each and every section.  The idea of forcing a team to skip an entire leg of the race would very much change the race experience and i feel is something to be avoided whenever possible. 

Most of the problems with rogaines that Sean mentions i think can be dealt with by ensuring three things -

  1. the rogaine feels like a separate section of the race (i.e. the whole race isn't a 'multisport rogaine') and happens in a relatively small (as compared to the entire race) area.  Ideally this small area can is set up in such a way that any route choice is permitted between the points so that teams have much more of a classic orienteering experience.
  2. The rogaine section (along with the rest of the course) is properly vetted by experienced racers with the aim of examining and testing all reasonable route choices, not just getting a time estimate for the section.
  3. RULES.  If there are any sections of the rogaine location that are off limits, or special instructions (ie. only bike on established trails, etc), these need to be clearly laid out in the instructions, perhaps to the point or ridiculous redundancy, and covered thoroughly in the pre-race meeting.  

The nice thing about a rogaine where the number of points visited by a team is optional is that it gives both a race director and teams themselves some decision making power.  As a RD i can set some really challenging points - harder to find, up a punishing hill, or even in the middle of a swamp that are going to test a fast team pushing their limits but that would break a less experienced crew.  Because finishing the race doesn't require visiting all the points with this format, these rookie teams can still reach their goal of facing and meeting some minimum challenge that the race presents.  In this vein, i will also often use 'in line' optional CP's during my races - points that are part of a sequential order section  but are optional.  For example a trek section involving CP's 4-10 might have points along a reasonably straighforward route but two or three optional points (5a, 6a, and 7a) such that 5a is at the bottom of a long ravine that the trail crosses somewhere between CPs 5 and 6, and similarly for the other optional points. 

The bottom line is that my goal in designing a course is to create an enjoyable race - with some minimal level of suffering and 'coolness' on each leg that will be a common experience for all racers who finish - that pushes top teams gunning for the podium and rank beginners just trying to meet the minimum requirements with relative equality.  Rogaine formats have, and will continue to, play a role in such courses.

My view

One thing that is nice about having a website that doubles as a blog is that it allows me to voice my opinions on things.  If you read the last post you'll know that my team (Yogaslackers) came away pretty disappointed with our experience at CP tracker's national championship race last weekend.  It's made me think of how different the sport of AR is than many other, more spectator friendly ones, and how this 'spectator-less' environment creates an interesting set of problems for AR, particularly when dealing with potentially controversial turns of events.  I offer an analogy as a way of helping folks consider what might have happened if this situation had taken place in another sporting field.....say one that is televised (it's harder to sweep things under the rug when they are witnessed after all).

Teams Osprey (yellow sunglasses) and Yogaslackers (midair) after CP tracker's decision to levy 6 hours in penalties.

BEGIN ANALOGY-

Setting - a major bike championship at the end of a 'series' with lots of prize money and status.  

Two riders in a breakaway, one of whom is a great rider who didn't compete in the series but decided to enter the championship when organizers opened it up to all comers in an attempt to 'fill' the race (after all, it's a business, right?).  Right away he's not exactly popular among some of the other riders a few of whom voice opinions that he shouldn't be allowed to race nationals without racing the series.  

The course contains a section that is very narrow, only allowing riders through single file, with lots of twists on cobblestones.  We'll call it 'the gauntlet'.  The lead two make it through ahead of the pack and so don't have to slow down.  Some of the other 'favorites' have had various issues (lets say mechanical ones) during the race and are unable to get to the front of the field before these technical sections and so are majorly slowed down. they lose further time and virtually any hope (if they'd had any at all) of catching the two leaders.  They're able to pull away and finish ahead of the rest of the pack, but still significantly behind the first two riders, who both had nearly flawless races.  

Prior to getting to the 'clusterf**k' as the top racers caught in the bottle-neck call it, there was a section of the course where the map/directions were somewhat vague - "you must complete three laps around the 'mountain loop' and traverse 'the gauntlet' before proceeding along the race course.  Confused, the two riders in the breakaway came up next to one of the race organization's cars and asked for clarification - "do we have to do the gauntlet first and then the mountain loops, or can we do it the other way around?"  The answer was that they could ride these sections in any order.  The route they chose navigated the gauntlet first and then the mountain loops, and then made it's way back to the main race course.  This route was slightly longer (due to construction) than the route taking in the mountain loops first and then the gauntlet.  

The top riders that were caught in the bottleneck were justifiably upset - while they might not have won the race without the delays, the delay's pretty much left them fighting for the third spot on the podium.  The delays, keep in mind, were caused by the race course design, and bad luck (mechanical issues) for the top racers not involved in the breakaway.  

Upon finding out that the breakaway riders had gone through the gauntlet first, the top riders, assuming some overall advantage had been conferred to them, protested.  Other riders who were not in contention for the podium positions had also chosen this route, but had no protests leveled against them, as is expected.  In light of the protests by these 'top riders' who had had a high presence in the series itself, the race management decided to level a penalty on the two breakaway riders as if they had skipped the mountain loop section of the course.  This effectively placed them well back in the field and off of the podium.  The race organization did not provide all of the relevant information to the protesting teams (ie that no actual advantage had been incurred because of route choice, that the ambiguity in the rules played a role in their decision, that other teams made the same decision, and that attempts by the breakaway riders to clarify the rules had been made, on multiple occasions, and that the answers given by race staff/volunteers had indicated that their chosen route was within the rules) and allow them to retract their protests or offer suggestions as to what, if any, penalties should be levied.  No outside or impartial source was consulted as to how best deal with the matter - all decisions were made 'in house', by the race directors, event promoter, and celebrity guest (cycling superstar floyd landis, lets say) - all of whom had at least some interest in the outcome beyond simply what was most fair to all involved given the entire set of facts available.  There was no attempt at mediation and no forum was provided for the filing of grievances by the breakaway riders.  No mention of the 'problem' or ownership of any of the factors that contributed to the controversy was hinted at by the race organization.

END ANALOGY

What would have happened in this situation?  if the breakaway riders had had a camera in their face after the race and then after they were booted from the podium?  If they had an audience for their side of the story on equal footing to that of the race organization?  Certainly then the top riders (who are all good athletes and want to 'earn' their accolades as national champions) would have said something, right?  Certainly the organization itself would have come under some sort of external pressure and had to significantly face the realities of loss of support from sponsors, etc, and perhaps more importantly had pressure to critically examine the discord between their decision making practices/competitor relations and their stated Organizational Goal of creating as fair of a race as possible.  

It's ok to admit mistakes.  I know it's hard, but it's important.  When is CP tracker going to, in the very least, take some responsibility for the 'clusterf**k' that affected the 'official winners' as well as those breakaway riders? I'm hoping the answer is 'soon', but i'm not about to hold my breath.....

Cheers

Andy

Nationals wrap up

How did CP tracker not think this through? 

Nationals is over!  Team Yogaslackers crossed the finish line 20 or so minutes behind the first team and nearly two hours ahead of the next one and had a nearly flawless race, suffering at the end only because I bonked hard while biking up the final 4000 climb in the middle of the night and had to be towed by Daniel.  We were pumped to have done so well and kept up (almost!) with the group of truly remarkable athletes that made up Team Osprey. The high lasted a little more than 12 hours at which time race organizers summoned the captains of each team (Travis Macy of Osprey and Jason Magness of Yogaslackers) individually into a meeting where they were informed that 6 hours worth of penalties would be levied.  When Jason gave us the news over an hour later, we assumed he was kidding.  He wasn't. 

Travis wrote a good description of the race and resulting controversial decision on his blog, here.  Jason from Yogaslackers wrote a similar letter from our point of view, which included even more compelling evidence as to why the penalties were inappropriate.  As of late it has even come to light that the teams that initially filed the protests which led to the penalties that ultimately moved them up into podium positions are equally disturbed by the outcome and wish that Osprey remained in first place with Yogaslackers in second.  It's deeply troubling and confusing to consider or question what reasoning/logic CPtracker's decision is based on.  There have not been satisfactory replies or explanations offered to any of our emails or questions at this point. 

While things will continue to unfold surrounding this matter, it has made me acutely aware of several things that are needed if the 'sport' is going to continue to evolve to a point where something like a national championship is meaningful.  The most pertinent of these is transparency and impartiality in decision making.  As i mentioned in an email to Paul Angell (head of the CPtracker organization and one of the principal folks responsible for deciding to levy a 6 hour penalty), if the same decision had been made by an unbiased committee of folks presented with all the relevant information i still would have been disappointed but would have at least had faith that the mechanism producing the decision was the right one.  As it stands, it's quite clear that ALOT went wrong in this case, and it seems as though the CP tracker 'advisory committee' believes that a show of strength and solidarity is more important than making the right decision, or even getting a second opinion.  As a race director and event planner, i'm only too aware that i may one day be in a similar situation to the one faced last weekend by the CP Tracker folks.  I'm not looking forward to it at all.  I do hope, however, that when it comes, i will be able to deal with it with a bit less hubris and a bit more humility.