Kelsey Dayton starts the mountain bike course during Casper Strong. (courtesy Josh Peterson)

The goal was simply to finish in fewer than 12 hours, the course cut-off time. I’m not sure exactly why Christine Peterson and I decided signing up for the Casper Strong adventure race was a good idea, but as the week of the race approached I knew I wasn’t ready. I’d spent the first part of the summer strong, running and biking in the mountains. But the month before the race my training became almost nonexistent as I traveled for work.

Casper Strong, in its second year, is one of six events that make-up Cowboy Tough Adventure Week. These events range from a 5K glow-run to the culminating event: the multi-day Cameco Cowboy Tough Expedition Adventure Race.

Casper Strong is meant to give people a taste of adventure racing. It starts with a hike or run up about 3,000 vertical feet to the top of Casper Mountain. There competitors complete an archery challenge, haul a 50-pound salt-block up a steep hill, and ride two laps of single track on mountain bikes. Racers then bike down the mountain where they again run, this time on a flat pathway to Casper’s whitewater park where the race finishes with an inner tube ride down the river.

Christine Peterson and Kelsey Dayton finish Casper Strong July 12. The race finishes with a float through the Casper whitewater park and down the river. (courtesy Josh Peterson)
Christine Peterson and Kelsey Dayton finish Casper Strong July 12. The race finishes with a float through the Casper whitewater park. (courtesy Josh Peterson)

I actually felt scared reading the email that arrived from the race directors less than a week before the July 12 event. It was the first time “race dread” ever turned to actual fear for me.

Christine and I decided to keep our goal simple: Just finish the race (preferably uninjured). That gave us 12 hours.

Long races like this are mental, Christine reminded me. It’s about how well you can suffer. As someone who is almost always the slowest and weakest but wants to keep up, I’ve learned how to suffer. For me, the mental strategy is all about the numbers. If I focus on numbers I’m not thinking about pain.

I live by the watch. Every 20 minutes, pace check. Every 30 minutes, drink. Every hour, eat.  I track and calculate everything; how slight changes in my speed will impact my overall pace, how many ounces of water I’ve drank, and how many times I’ve wondered why I paid money to suffer.

So this is Casper Strong, as I know it, by the numbers.

0 — The amount of times I flipped my tube in the whitewater park. I consider this a huge victory. Despite everyone saying this was the fun part, this was the portion of the race I feared most. But the stress of actually paddling myself against the wind to the center of the river while people yelled directions at me from shore distracted me from my nervousness about the actual float.

1 — The number of “suffer selfies” Christine and I took while racing up Casper Mountain. Clearly we were moving slowly enough to take a picture, and based on our smiles we weren’t yet suffering.

1.5 — The number of times we missed the blue arrows meant to mark the trail. On the first run we were feeling great, only to realize something was amiss. We were descending the mountain we were supposed to be going up. After directions from a race official and hiking back up, we still bypassed the turnoff. Luckily another team also missed the turn and we found our way back together.

Despite getting lost, Christine Peterson and Kelsey Dayton were still smiling as they made their way up Casper Mountain during Casper Strong. (courtesy Christine Peterson)
Despite getting lost, Christine Peterson and Kelsey Dayton were still smiling as they made their way up Casper Mountain during Casper Strong. (courtesy Christine Peterson)

2nd — How we placed in our division: two-person women teams. Ok, so there were only two teams in our division, but I’m proud we were among the few all-women teams. There were 16 women who raced the course this year — many as solo competitors. The fastest female solo racer, Christy Olsen, finished the course in 4 hours 11 minutes, and with an adjusted time of 3 hours 56 minutes thanks to hitting targets in the archery challenge, which won her time deductions.

3 hours 40 minutes — The new course record set by Ben Emery of Casper. He completed the course in 3 hours 55 minutes. His time was adjusted for hitting targets in the archery challenge. Emery beat his own course record from the year before, which was 4 hours and 20 minutes.

5 — The number of states represented by competitors in the race.

6 — At least this many people finished after us. Yes, we were in the bottom of the pack. But we were mentally prepared for the possibility we might finish last — think pep talks like “You are ahead of all the people that didn’t enter,” and “Someone has to come in last.” I couldn’t help but revel in the fact that someone wasn’t us.

7 — The number of bikers we saw careening down the mountain as we still made our way up. They not only reached the top, they also completed the archery and salt-block challenge and mountain bike loops before we even finished the run/hike.

7 hours 30 minutes — The time it took us to complete the course, including at least 45 minutes we added with our wrong turn. Luckily Christine hit two of the three archery targets, giving us an adjusted time of 7 hours 20 minutes.

35 — The spirit-crushing wind speed warning (with a plus) on a sign near the road the morning of the race.

37 — Number of racers last year. This year, the second year of the race, 74 people registered and 66 people raced.

86 — The number of ounces of water I drank just on the climb to the top of Casper Mountain, where another bag with water waited for me. I normally don’t do well in heat. It was my biggest concern, and due to constant drinking and salt pills I avoided the normal heat headaches that plague me.

A bajillion — The number of times the chorus of Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream, which was playing on the bus that took us to the start, ran through my head during the race. Be careful what music you listen to right before you race.

Undetermined — How many races like this, if any, are in my future.

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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