“Its amazing how much time is wasted eating and sleeping” – 24 Hour Racer
The wind howls across Crowley Lake as two of the 26 teams competing in the first ever All-Out 24 adventure race drag their kayaks onto the south shore at 6 p.m. Many racers hope to just finish and live to tell the tale of surviving 60 miles biking, 40 miles of running and 15 miles paddling.
For “pro” adventure racer, Mari Chandler, the 24-hour race is a warm-up. “I like the 24, it’s short, it’s a sprint race; you can go fast and go crazy. Anyone can miss a night of sleep and its not too long that you get tired of that boring trail food,” she said.
Chandler and Team DARTnunn landed at Crowley at 1 p.m. after a mountain bike ride down Mammoth Mountain to the Lake then started the 30 mile trek to the Owens Gorge. This is Chandler’s third race in as many weeks. All part of her training regimen: race as much as possible. She didn’t divulge a secret training technique.
Chandler is one of the top ranked female adventure racers in the world and races on three of the four top ranked teams. The internationally ranked races mandate co-ed teams, so 38-year old Chandler is in high demand.
Racers started the first ever All-Out Events 24-hour adventure race at 6 a.m. After the trek to the Gorge and a 500 foot rappel, racers hoof it to Tom’s Place to jump on a bike for 50 kilometers, some paddling on the Owens River, and a 5K run to the finish line at Bishop City Park. All this on unmarked trails without aid stations or any information on the route until the starting gun goes off – basic adventure race fare.
DARTnunn came in second, at 28 hours, behind one of Chandler’s other teams, Technu, at 26.5 hours.
Chandler snickers at the label “professional” adventure racer; there are no such creatures in the States. Europeans dig the sport, with televised races, sponsors, and “some pretty well fed” racers. But, “Not enough drama for American TV,” she said with a shrug. Adventure racing got a small American publicity boost with the televised Eco-Challenge races about 10 years ago, which inspired Chandler: “I can do that, I want to do that,” she said.
Chandler has not pursued personal sponsorship, but her teams enjoy free gear. Given her current unrestricted lifestyle and telecommute job, she’s probably the closest thing to a “pro” adventure racer there is. She calculated her hourly wage one summer, given her winnings and training; it came to about .37 cents an hour.
Luckily Chandler is an adventure junkie and lives for the views. She’s raced in more than 12 countries. She says she probably sees more in a 3-day race than tourists see in a two-week tour of plush hotel rooms and regional cuisine.
“Some of my friends criticize me that I go to these exotic, remote locations and don’t spend more time,” she said. But traveling their way, she said, “It’s amazing how much time you waste between eating and sleeping.”
Team work is a major part of the race, coupled with unequaled physical and mental challenges.
“Its a bit like warfare, its hard to describe unless you’ve been there,” Chandler said. Racers put themselves in some danger intentionally, and the teamwork breeds a family-like relationship. “These guys [her teammates] are like my brothers,” she said. “Its hard to find that dynamic elsewhere in the real world,” she said.
Luckily as a top ranked female, her dance card is full. Chandler has been an athlete her whole life, jumping on a bike and adventure racing right after an ankle injury sidelined her 1,500 meter running career.
When asked about her secrets to keeping in such good shape, she said she has none. She works out 20-25 hours a week, but unlike most racers, who focus on two or three races a year, she likes to race as much as possible and ride a little in between to keep warm. The All-Out 24 was her third race in as many weekends before heading to Alaska for a 7-day race, then a race in Wyoming.
But there’s a mental side to adventure racing, too. Experience leads to mental toughness, the ability to push oneself to the finish, to make quick decisions, knowing when to rest, when to eat, what to eat and how to handle pesky hallucinations. Seeing and hearing things that aren’t really there is a pretty common side-effect of sleep derivation and common on the adventure race track. “I was freaked out a bit with my first hallucinations – now its like, ‘Hey I see penguins over there,’ and the guys are like, ‘OK, that’s cool.’”
Chandler said this kind of racing is “one of the only sports that has the most work and money spent and you get nothing in return, the abuse that your body and mind go through and you walk away with memories, which is enough for us. I got a pint glass and a jersey at the end of this 24.”
At Crowley, Connellan Coxwell had full body shivers, near hypothermia at 6 p.m., but with dreams of finishing. Coxwell is part of the mother and son team with 14-year old son Griffin Chen competing in their first 24-hours race.
Mary Jones, race volunteer managing the Crowley checkpoint said at 6:30 p.m. said there were still six of the 26 teams missing in action. “The trail’s not marked,” and there aren’t any aid stations, she said with the look of a worried mother, then a small mischievous smile cracked her face, “But, that’s what they sign up for.”