Extreme racing over hills,
down streams, through muck
by Maxine Herr
|Photo Courtesy of ENDracing
When Alison Kelly faces a challenge in life, she is not afraid to conquer it. She attributes some of that empowerment to her experiences competing in endurance races in North Dakota.
Since 2007, Extreme North Dakota Racing (ENDRacing) of Grand Forks has been pushing men and women from across the continent to strive for more than they thought possible.
The program offers 10 races each year, ranging from fun mud runs in the city to grueling 36-hour races in rough rural terrain. What most people may consider extreme, Kelly looks forward to each year as an opportunity to test her limits. As a psychology instructor at the University of North Dakota, she see how the races parallel life.
“I think adventure racing is a great analogy of getting through difficulties we face on a daily basis,” Kelly said. “Just developing the mental strength to face those challenges – that’s something that’s very unique to endurance racing.”
The races involve trekking through water and wooded areas, biking along trails, and navigating the course to reach various checkpoints necessary to finish the feat.
“Navigation is the hardest part to get down,” Kelly said. “Definitely have someone on your team that knows how to read a map, knows contour lines and elevation because that’s where teams fall apart and miss checkpoints or get lost.”
ENDRacing Director Andy Magness designs courses with varying difficulty, so some races can be done solo or as part of a team. But he insists people should not be intimidated by the thought of a six- or nine-hour race.
“Adventure races are more suitable for a wider range of people,” Magness said. “It’s far less taxing than a marathon because there are lots of stops and starts to look at a map or to switch disciplines. It’s definitely demanding if you’re out in the forest and have to bushwhack, but it’s great fun. I’ve done it with guys who never ran a step but were great navigators and we came in within the top five.”
In conjunction with ENDRacing, Magness started a nonprofit organization called Ground UP Adventures which develops climbing and paddling clubs and an adventure camp for youth. The goal is to increase access to adventure-based activities for kids and families. Proceeds from ENDRacing registrations help fund this program.
With races conducted throughout the year, severe weather in the state can often add to the adventure. The Iceman event, a cross-country skiing, biking, running and sledding course held every February, is dubbed as “the perfect balance of fun and brutality.”
Magness said a spring race, which was held in May near the Pembina Gorge, is a tough race, but since it only lasts seven to 10 hours, it is a good entry point for those new to adventure racing to attempt a course.
“Endurance racing is far more of a mental exercise than most people realize. The physical ability needed to complete the race is much more attainable than most people feel like it is; the real challenge is mental,” Magness said.
The Uff Da Mud Run in September is full of tough obstacles and naturally, you’ll get messy, but Magness adds that the mud is natural, not manufactured. Some racers finish in 45 minutes while families can take up to 2.5 hours to allow children to tackle the course.
“The Red River has the best mud in the world,” Magness said. “I found a course that takes advantage of that.”
ENDRacing’s highlight of 2014 will be a 36-hour adventure race through the beautiful Badlands in western North Dakota in October. The race will serve as the North American Adventure Racing Series Championship and could draw participants from around the globe. This race will be an extreme challenge of teamwork involving biking, trekking and paddling through some of the most difficult terrain in the state. Magness hopes the event proves to be challenging, but also memorable and rewarding for racers.
“I’ve developed an uncanny ability to plan these things in my head using satellite images. With Google maps, I can get a general idea for a flow of the course and then I go out there and make sure that what I envisioned is actually going to be what I want it to be,” Magness said. “It’s really a creative outlet for me.”
He said the course in the Badlands will include a couple sections where racers will have options of how to get from one checkpoint to the next. The choice could cause a loss or gain of time, but Magness said that’s the beauty of it.
“You can take a bold gamble and pull ahead of the team you’re racing with, or it can backfire and you have to go back to the trail,” he said. “There’s definitely an element of uncertainty in adventure racing which is unlike any other sport.”
ENDRacing does award prizes for top finishers, but Magness admits the prizes should not serve as motivation.
“I’ve done enough races to know that in the middle of it you could care less about the prize, you just want the pain to stop,” he jokingly remarked.
Because ENDRacing is a grassroots, small organization, Magness tries to keep the entry fee low to encourage greater participation, so participants won’t receive T-shirts and winners won’t walk away with thousands of dollars, but some local businesses do donate nice prizes.
“We spend our time and energy creating a really good course that people will find memorable,” Magness said. “That’s worth way more than a cotton T-shirt.”