By Alex Roberts
Team Santa Fe Adventure Racing co-founders Jan Bear and Carl Gable share a common passion: pushing themselves to the absolute limit.
Bear is an avid long-distance biker whose accomplishments include finishing third in his age group in Costa Rica’s three-day, 300-mile La Ruta de Los Conquistadores, often considered the most grueling and difficult bike race in the world.
Among other events across the globe, Gable has taken part in a series of 24-hour marathon ski races. Those go a little something like this:
“You climb to the top of a ski area and ski down, and keep doing it as many times as you can for 24 hours straight and see how many vertical feet you can do,” Gable says. “You’ll end up doing more than 25,000 vertical feet in a single day…Headlamps are good for those kinds of things.”
Headlamps and chutzpah.
But adventure racing enthusiasts don’t want the sport’s image as one of multiday, nonstop globe-trotting marathons—think Survivor producer Mark Burnett’s 10-day Eco-Challenge—to scare away more casual outdoorsmen from trying out the sport and, in the process, taking advantage of New Mexico’s beautiful natural surroundings.
Adventure racing incorporates at least two disciplines, usually some combination of hiking or running, mountain biking, paddling on open or white water, and some form of rope or climbing event. What really “puts the ‘adventure’ in adventure racing,” Kim Kavasch, vice president of the New Mexico Adventure Racing Club, says, is “racers don’t know the course ahead of time, and it’s up to the team to plot the points. You have to navigate your course, and it’s up to each team to determine their route.”
Events happen all over the world—from Brazil to Switzerland. But the climate and varied landscapes of the Southwest allow for a wealth of adventure racing possibilities year-round, according to NMARC’s president, David Nicholson.
Whenever possible, NMARC tries to incorporate paddling, along with mountain biking, running and hiking, into its events; it is because of this, Nicholson explains, that locations such as Fenton and Cochiti lakes are ideal in what is a mostly dry state.
With the basic components in hand, it’s up to race organizers—and the race team members—to decide how grueling and far they want a race to be. Adventure races range from shorter “sprints”—something like a short “off-road triathlon,” according to Gable—to days-long expeditions that can span hundreds of miles and test the physical—and mental—resolve of team members.
In these competitions, there are no set start or end times for each day; a team may choose to race all day and through the night in its quest to the finish line.
“A lot of times these races have teams that don’t finish, and they don’t because they make the decision not to go on,” Gable says. “It’s not that they can’t take another step from a broken leg or something like that; they say, ‘I give up.’
There’s a huge mental aspect to these things when you’re out there on the fifth day at 3 am; it’s much more than physical.”
For NMARC, though, the focus is less on epic outdoor gauntlets and more on day-long races and raising awareness of all the outdoor activities in which New Mexicans can take part.
“We just want to promote the disciplines involved in racing, even if people might not be interested in racing per se,” Kavasch says. “Just to get them out to experience the outdoors…say, even just orienteering or navigating out in the [Santa Fe] National Forest for a day.”
A list of upcoming races, events and clinics around the state, including the club’s yearly Adventure Racing 101 clinic for curious AR newbies, can be found on the NMARC website. Team members often have extra trekking gear available for those who need it and/or can assist beginners in making educated gear purchases. For those who do decide to get competitive and try their hand in an actual race, Gable notes many race series in the region offer not just days-long events for the hardcore, but also shorter, more accessible races.
“These sprint races may feature, for instance, two hours of paddling a boat, two hours of mountain biking and two hours of orienteering, hiking or jogging,” Gable says. “Six hours can be a long time, but it’s definitely accessible with some training and dedication. There’s a lot that people can take part in pretty locally. You don’t have to travel off to Brazil for a 10-day expedition.”
NMARC and Team Santa Fe aren’t trying to sculpt the citizenry into fearless, dedicated marathon-goers with impressive résumés and workout regiments. Rather, they hold a more basic goal: to help more New Mexicans become active and appreciate their natural surroundings. It’s a focus that Bear, as a physician and orthopedic surgeon at CHRISTUS St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, sees as particularly vital.
“I’m a physician, but anyone can look and see that the fitness and health of our country is terribly poor right now,” he says. “You never see people outdoors doing things anymore, and that’s really what my level of frustration is about. Just look where we live—you can be outside every day of the year without a problem; the weather doesn’t stop you from doing anything.”
Set your mind to it, and neither will anything else.
Sept. 12: Double Boundary Trail, mountain bike race, Taos (nmes.wordpress.com)
Sept. 20: Horny Toad Hustle, mountain bike race, Las Cruces (nmors.org)
Sept. 26: High Desert Screamer, mountain bike race, Gallup (nmors.org)
Sept. 27: Native American Championship Run, trail run, Gallup (squashblossomclassic.com)
Oct. 3: Big Tesuque Trail Run, trail run, Santa Fe (santafestriders.org)