Thursday, December 16, 2010

Big Fish in a Small Pond - Thoughts on the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge

Andy feeling about done - Liwa Desert, the Empty Quarter
The Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge is over.  After 6 days of racing across the United Arab Emirates - the mountains, deserts, and Arabian Gulf - we are fininshed.  The days ahead though will see us taking on the daunting task of ridding every orifice of the fine grain sand that gets everywhere.

In the days ahead, we will begin to process the race a bit more, and try to write a full report, detailing some of the highlights, low points, fights and triumphs that come along with such an intense undertaking.  But right now we just want to take a moment to be humble. Or maybe to say that we were completely humbled here.

We came back to the challenge this year after our best domestic race season ever.  We were crowned the champions of the California ARA series and in the US this year, we beat  many of the best teams from around the country, and those races that we did finish first, we finished a close second.  An entire year of racing without a single finish lower than 2nd place.  Even when the controversy of the Checkpoint tracker National Championships turned out against us, it was clear to us that we had become one of the fastest teams in the American adventure racing scene.

We went to Abu Dhabi, assuming that this dominance of the domestic circuits would translate to success overseas.  Oh boy were we wrong.  To put it bluntly, we got our asses handed to us.  I'd love to say that we had some equipment malfunctions that slowed us down, or made some bad navigation decision that slowed us down.    Not so.  We raced fast and hard.  And compared to the other US teams that were there (including this year's National Champions - Wedali) we did quite well.

It was not, however, nearly enough.  After the first day we were sitting in 30th place.  Dumbstruck.  I think it was emotionally harder than it was physically, and Daniel and Chelsey struggled to stay motivated.  I felt almost as if we were about to give up because we were not doing as well as we'd expected to.  But instead we made the tough decision to suck it up and use the remaining days as a litmus test of sorts - to expose our weaknesses, in hopes of learning a bit more of the truth about where we stand in the world of elite adventure athletes.

By then end of the second day we'd climbed to 21st.  And then came the epic desert crossing.  We suffered in the unseasonable heat (38 degrees celcius/100 Farenheit), but our penchant for pain and endurance led us further up the rankings to 14th.  The final 120km paddle was canceled due to high winds, and replaced with a much shorter 33km kayak sprint to the finish, where we were able to hold on to our position, but not gain enough ground to move up.

As we crossed reflected the day after the race, we realized that we'd discovered another tier of elite athletes out there - a level of endurance adventurer that is as inspiring as they are scary.  And it turns out that it wasn't just one mutant superman, nor just one team of them...there were lots of them - a whole tribe of these super athletes.  I almost felt like I'd spent the last year somehow masquerading as one of them, only to show up at the Grand Ball Event and be wearing the wrong sort of costume.

We hesitated there in the aftermath for a moment, unsure of how to proceed.  Scurry home to the US and pretend it had all been a bad dream, or stand there awkwardly and admit that we didn't quite measure up.

I'm not sure exactly how the other Slackers feel, but I'm pretty sure none of us want to pretend that we are something we are not.  We've got some work to do if we are going back next year, but I for one am excited by the prospect.
running across the ridge of Jebel Hafeet


  1. I will say that I am impressed with your finish. There is no shame in setting high goals, especially against a tough international scene of athletes.

    I've experienced the "pro" and "international" level of competition a couple times in my short athletic career. I used to race short track speedskating, and I had the opportunity to race against kids who were very fast, and were destined to become olympians (and did). I thought they were fast, then Shani Davis skated at one of the meets, and totally dominated without even trying. So, he was fast. Upon asking him about it, he said Apolo Ohno was able to do to him what we did to us. That opened my eyes. I also had another similar experience with riding with pro cyclists. That definitely humbled me.

    But please don't view your performance as a negative. The international scene is the best of the best, and is very tough to break into. You guys are great, and accomplished a lot you should be very proud of. Congratulations on racing hard and not giving up!


  2. I'm in agreement with Scott; your result is superb! Cyanosis is our top SA team and they place highly in 'classic' expedition ARs but were not in the top ranks at ADAC. ADAC is a totally different puppy with little strategy or navigation and lots of 'go like hell'. You can be very proud of your achievement there.

    Another thing is to race without considering 'numbers'. Sometimes result are a matter of ability; but they're also influenced by how also comes to the party. Lots of good racers at ADAC - possibly proportionally more than at other races? So even a mid-field placing is commendable. Instead of expecting to be somewhere, rather focus on racing your best and then see where you end up (keeping an eye on teams nearby you can try to beat).

    You're quite right about the tribe of super athletes at ADAC - it really is quite incredible. Harness this inspiration towards an amazing year in 2011 - one with even more strength, fitness, competence and courage.

    Although acroyoga is not established here, I've found two workshops to attend in January and have found a studio that has irregular sessions ;)

    Lisa - Team, South Africa