Doing anything for 30 hours straight is beyond the comprehension of the vast majority of people.
Continuous mountain biking, canoeing and trekking (running through heavily wooded areas without benefit of trails) for that length of time, in a race, is insane.
That’s what drew a pair of local high school wrestling coaches to the extreme sport of adventure racing when approached by a friend.
“It lets you test your limits,” proclaimed Zack Ballard, who has been participating in these kind of races since 2008. “It’s not always the fastest that wins, but the one who can endure, adapt and adjust to the different challenges each races brings.”
About a year and a half ago, Ballard approached Ben Smith and Adam Rains about getting involved in the sport.
The pair of former Bradley Central and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestlers jumped at the chance. Ballard played football for coach Bill Price’s Bear playoff teams and his brother Nick was a wrestling teammate of Smith and Rains.
“Anybody who knows us (Smith and Rains), knows how competitive we are, so this was right up our alley,” declared Smith, who became the head coach of the storied Bradley Central wrestling program a little over a year ago.
“We had done some triathlons in the past but nothing like this,” expressed Rains, who was an assistant coach with Smith under legendary coach Steve Logsdon for several years before accepting a full-time teaching position and assistant coaching job at Walker Valley last summer.
“The race we did last weekend included 77 miles of mountain biking, 12-15 miles of paddling and running about the equivalent of a half marathon (13 miles),” Smith related. “We knocked off the No. 1 team in the nation at that race.”
Currently ranked seventh in the nation in the four-man team listing and 14th in the co-ed division, the group has qualified for the national championship race for the second straight year.
The revolving team members for Adventure Capitalist/BDAR include Ballard, Smith, Rains, Jason Finnell (Dalton, Ga.), Josh Braun (Murfreesboro), Brooke Manning (Hixson) and Heather Kluch (Chicago). Finnell was a UTC wrestling teammate of Smith and Rains.
“Each race has several divisions — two-man, three-man or four-man teams, plus co-ed — so depending on which ones of us is available for which race means a different combination of us will compete in a particular race,” explained Ballard. “Because of going to graduate school at UTC and Erlanger, I won’t be able to compete for the next two years, but the others will continue on. I’ll get back with them when school is over.”
“Zack is our navigator, so with him going to be out, we hooked up with his friend Josh Braun through Facebook. He is doing our navigation now,” Smith related. “We did the same (using Facebook) with Heather (Kluch) for last weekend’s race.”
“Navigation is the key to this sport,” Rains assessed. “At each race they give you a topographical map and you use a compass to find the check-in points. The map is divided into sections that you have to hit a certain number of checkpoints in before you can move on to another area.”
“It doesn’t matter if you have a team full of studs, but if they don’t know where they’re going, it doesn’t matter,” proclaimed Ballard.
While racing, team members must stay within 100 feet of each other.
“If you (personally) are strong in certain areas, you can’t just run off and leave your teammates. You have to stay within sight of each other and help each other along,” Smith commented. “There’s a real ‘team aspect’ to this sport. Everybody’s going to hit low points during the race and its up to the other team members to pick them up and help them through.”
With no set rest periods during a race, stopping is up to the discretion of each team in the timed event.
“Keeping hydrated and nutrition are important. We eat something small about twice an hour, so we may stop for a couple of minutes while we do that,” Rains explained. “We drink Ensure shakes, eat power bars and jells, whatever we can stomach and keep racing.”
“We’ll treat ourselves occasionally with things like M&Ms, Fritos and Mountain Dews for rewards and pick-me-ups,” added Smith. “We want to keep a consistent pace, so we don’t stop long, but those few moments mean a lot.”
Some races allow the team to have a support person, who can drop off supplies or equipment at a designated area along the course, while other races will either move the supplies for them or require them to carry everything they need with them.
The trio attributed much of the team’s success to the help of Charles Nelson at Trailhead Bicycle Company and Doug Coulter of Scott’s Bicycle Centre.
“We have two great shops here that support us and help us with our equipment,” Smith remarked. “We’ll take our bikes in after a race, they’ll be all torn up and these guys fix them and get them ready to go for the next race.”
“We are also very fortunate to live in an area that has such great natural training areas,” Ballard added. “Although the sport is not very well known around here, it is known across the nation and around the world.”
“In our area, it’s big in Atlanta, plus Chattanooga and Nashville have a few teams,” he related. “It’s cool to go to these races with teams from Washington state, Minnesota and all over the country and have them ask where Cleveland, Tennessee, is.”
After three top 5 finishes in 2010, including a first (co-ed) in the Greenways Adventure Race (Springfield, Mo.), the Adventure Capitalist/BDAR team had four top 10 finishes in 2011, with Rains and Ballard finishing second in the Checkpoint Tracker National Championship.
So far this year they have claimed third at the 12-hour Natchez Trace, fourth in the 10-hour Blue Ridge Mountain, sixth at the Atomic 30-hour (Ballard, Smith, Rains, Finnell) and third at their most recent race, the 15-hour Sheltowee Extreme Adventure Race (Smith, Rains, Braun, Kluch), in Morehead, Ky.
“We led the Atomic for the first 10-11 hours and were just one or two things away from winning it,” proclaimed Smith. “We beat teams that are getting paid to do this. We came back last weekend (at Sheltowee) and beat some teams that finished ahead of us at the Atomic.”
“We’re walking toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in the nation,” Rains asserted. “We’re not just playing in the woods, we are competing at the top level.”
After a pair of runner-up finishes the last two years, the team will be looking for top honors at the YMCA Strong Adventure Race next month. Sponsored by Toyota of Cleveland and held at Camp Ocoee, this year’s race will be an eight-hour format on Aug. 11, with a six-hour youth race as well.
“We really like this race, not only is it local for us but it also raises funds for the local YMCA camp,” stated Rains. “We’ve finished second twice, so we really want to win it this year.”
Being physical education teachers, Smith and Rains also like the interest their racing has created among their students.
“They’ll ask how we did and want to know about what all happened in the races,” Rains related. “It helps us be able to teach them about setting goals and building to them.”
“It not only gives us an opportunity to be competitive at something since our (college) playing days are over, but it helps us teach about lifetime wellness and fitness,” added Smith.
“We’ve learned by watching guys like Turner Jackson and Steve Logsdon about testing your limits and lifestyle fitness. This gives us the opportunity to do that,” Smith continued. “I’m a 31-year-old man and I look forward to texting Logsdon after a race and letting him know how we did.”
The excitement for the team will continue to build as they prepare for the 30-hour national championship race Sept. 28-29 at the Gauley River area in West Virginia.