— June 25, 2013

It’s not the mileage — although up to 400 miles of human-propelled travel spread across 3.5 days will beat your body and wear on your spirit. It’s not the heat — although traveling those 400 miles through Wyoming’s sagebrush in July is sure to bake your skin to uncomfortable degrees and suck dry any sweat you’re still able to produce.

It’s the sleep deprivation. The serious competitors who will run Wyoming’s first adventure race won’t sleep the first 24 hours. Then they’ll take only up to three hours per 24, often on the side of the trail secretly, if possible, so other teams are unaware of their sleep deprivation level. While awake they’ll not only run, they’ll negotiate single-tracks on mountain bikes, rappel off a cliff side and navigate their way across the state.

The REV3 Cowboy Tough Enough Race is meant to showcase Wyoming and test the mettle of serious endurance athletes.

Kelsey Dayton

The race, which begins July 18 in Curt Gowdy State Park, is the first of its kind in Wyoming. What will hopefully become a tradition was born from a request from the governor’s office to create an event that would increase tourism in Wyoming, said Darran Wells, senior field instructor with the National Outdoor Leadership School, who helped organize and plan the event with REV3 Racing.

The goal was to create an annual event  that would attract elite athletes, but also provide opportunities for families to participate, all the while showcasing the recreation, beauty and wildness Wyoming offers.

“We’re building the largest adventure weekend in the West,” said Mike Spiller, owner of REV3 Racing and the main race director for the Wyoming event.

The weekend includes events in Casper, where the main race ends, like a 5K and 1-mile Glow Runs July 19 complete with glow sticks and glow-in-the-dark T-shirts. There will be an urban adventure challenge July 20 where participants will find their way to checkpoints and challenges in town. And then there will be a family adventure race July 21, where one member of each two-person team must be between six and 16 years old. It’s about inspiring the next generation of adventure racers, Spiller said.

But the main event is the 3.5 day adventure race.

The best kind of adventure races feature a variety of terrain and activities, said Wells, an adventure race veteran. “And we do have variety of terrain,” he said.

The race requires competitors to navigate their way across the course, finding checkpoints along the way. There will be mandatory checkpoints each team must find, but also voluntary ones. Whichever team hits the most optional checkpoints before crossing the finish line will win. No team will hit all 90 checkpoints, Spiller said. And about half of the teams won’t finish the race at all.

One of the challenges of adventure racing is navigating and traveling at night. (Photo courtesy REV3 racing)

The race is meant to showcase Wyoming’s history, state parks and public lands. Each year the course route will change. Next year it will take place in the Wind River Mountain Range, and the following year it will happen near Devils Tower.

This year’s race starts in Curt Gowdy State Park on mountain bikes, runs through Vedauwoo where racers will complete a rappel. There will be a portion of the race on the California Trail and a hand-cart pull at Martin’s Cove and finishes in Casper at the white water park. In between will be miles of paddling, running, trekking and biking on dirt roads.

While the race requires a variety of skills — paddling, navigating and endurance running and biking — each race does play to certain strengths, Wells said. This year’s course means racers will spend a lot of time in the open sagebrush landscape under the beating sun.

“It’s going to be brutal,” Wells said.

Teams with experience racing and biking in the heat are going do to better than other teams. But all the teams are going to suffer sleep deprivation. It affects the way you think. It’s hard to strategize. People will literally start falling asleep on their feet while running, Wells said.

The other challenge racers don’t realize is the team dynamics. There is a cliché about people being only as fast as the slowest person on their team,. A good team can go faster than the slowest person on their team could on their own. There will be times where teammates will literally tow each other on foot or bike or boat.

“A lot of this is about who can suffer the most,” Wells said.

Training for an adventure race is challenging. Adam Swisher and Katie Everson of Lander are one of several Wyoming teams in the 27-team field signed up for the race.

They train in the early morning, at lunch and when they finish with work at the National Outdoor Leadership School. On the weekends they log miles of mixed training, climbing and then biking or long runs across the Wind River Mountain Range. They experiment with food — Swisher plans to down about 10,000 calories a day. Everson’s stomach becomes sensitive during endurance challenges, but she’ll try to eat as much as she can and is experimenting with what goes down easiest.

They’ve discussed how they respond to stress, exhaustion, pain and sleep deprivation.

“At 3 a.m. we know it’s going to be more of a mental game, one foot in front of the other,” Everson said.

But really, it’s all a bit of a guessing game until they are actually on the course, they said.

Everson has run three marathons, including Boston, but never raced 24 hours. Swisher raced his first adventure race, a five day-stage race, when he was 16, which his team ended up winning. He also raced 24-hour mountain bike races. Swisher is a navigator, he likes pinpointing spots on a map, deciding on a route and getting there. Everson is the endurance athlete and knows how to set a pace.

They want to hit as many checkpoints as they can. They want to see how far they can push their bodies physically and mentally.

And that is really the draw to adventure racing, Spiller said.

People seek it out because it allows them to do things they otherwise wouldn’t, like rappel 300 feet in Vedauwoo, or riverboard through the Casper whitewater park, Spiller said. But really it’s about seeing how deep you can dig inside to keep running through the pain and exhaustion, he said. It’s an experiment in seeing what your body can do and barometer to show how tough you really are.

While the main adventure race registration is closed, check out the other activities and sign-up- spots are limited in some events. http://www.rev3adventure.com/

— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer based in Lander. She has been a journalist in Wyoming for seven years, reporting for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Casper Star-Tribune and the Gillette News-Record. Contact Kelsey at kelsey.dayton@gmail.com. Follower her on twitter @Kelsey_Dayton

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Kelsey Dayton

Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide...

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