BAR: Thursday January 15th, 2015
AAR: Friday January 23rd, 2015
Preface: This post is intended for both friends/family who don’t actively participate in Endurance events and peers who may benefit from the review (specifically from lessons learned on gear selection and moving with a large group vs. racing against others).
Below is my Before Action Review (“BAR”) for the (then) upcoming Extremus Winter Trek in VT. BAR is a concept I created as a channel to post BEFORE an event leading up to the (After Action Review (“AAR”)) , to compare my expectations with reality. The BAR will note my expectations of difficulty of several key categories and what I did to prepare for them, i.e. my process. The AAR will provide the opportunity to see how horribly off I was on most things.
WHO: Myself and a group of ~38 other teammates + volunteers
WHAT: “Extremus” http://www.endurancesociety.org/extremus/
“Refresh your courage, test your fortitude, and join us on a long-distance, point-to-point winter trek through the harshest weather and toughest mountains Vermont has to offer.”
WHERE: The Long Trail, Mount Mansfield VT
WHEN: Saturday 01-17-2015 , 3 am departure, shuttle from Blueberry Inn to Mount Mansfield
I tagged 2015 as the year I cared less about formally “Finishing” endurance events and more about learning while I did them. In 2014 there was lots of “activity” around the future of Death Races (and Peak races in general). There was a split in leadership and from that the Endurance Society was born. I don’t trust internet buzz and rumors, but I certainly do trust close friends. In short- my decision to skip the 2015 Winter Death Race and join the Endurance Society for their inaugural event was a no brainer. The journey was planned, and I left NYC Friday with my pals Jason S., Steve B., Olof D., and Caitlin A. They would all do a fantastic job, as I would soon find out….
It’s very important that I note something before I begin the BAR/AAR. The utmost respect goes to Jane C. (where is my cotton candy?) and all the Volunteers who braved the harsh conditions to meet us and take care of us, the Endurance Society founders (Andy Weinberg and Jack Cary) who meticulously planned for everything possible, and the team leaders and trail finders who demonstrated exactly why they were chosen for those roles. The effort, skill and leadership of a FRONT team on a trek like this does not compare to leading a team with a trail defined for them (I was tasked to lead the last team (Team 5) in the group, which really amounted to keeping the team together, motivated, and on the broken in trail). Major kudos to Olof, Lance, Jordan, Dave, Andy and Jack for your tireless effort and leadership during this event.
Photos below credit to Dario Cantatore- Thank you!
Based on my previous experiences and expectations, here is my BAR/AAR for Extremus 2015: my expectations on a scale of 1-10 (1=least challenging, 10=most challenging) and my preparation process for categories I think are important.
This is interesting to predict. I know my legs are capable of traveling 50 miles in harsh conditions, and I successfully completed the Peak races snowshoe marathon in 2014, but this is a different animal. My guess is the group size and lack of a warm shelter for the entire duration of the event will play a big role in finishing. I am still confident a good percentage of us will finish.
Actual: Did Not Finish (DNF)
Sure enough, group size played a major role in the outcome of our trek. This was a TEAM event, not a race. In order for the team to finish, our pace needed to be fast enough to ensure we were at pre-planned checkpoints at the correct times. We were unable to keep a reasonable pace, partially due to general pacing, but also due to unexpected challenges with locating trail blazes in the dead of night on a portion of unexplored trail. The quickest way to frostbite and danger in these types of conditions is to stop moving. Unfortunately, it was happening. Often. I want to go back and highlight the tremendous job the trail finders and leaders did. They worked like MANIACS trying to find our way. Climbing dangerous sections of mountain, clearing snow, reviewing maps and GPS coordinates, and doing their best to keep cool knowing a team of 25+ was waiting with hypothermic conditions looming and a relentless wind blowing near the summit of our second leg. This was clearly the toughest part of the entire event- the frustration of dealing with growing safety concerns and realization that finishing the entire planned trek at our current pace (now 24+ hours in) meant we finished Tuesday. A decision was made to take an emergency evac route down a ski trail and meet the van of volunteers several miles down the mountain. At that time, plenty of folks had enough gas in the tank to continue on, but safety concerns loomed. A decision was made to return to the ski center starting point, and for those who wanted to, a shorter hike to “Camels Hump” would take place the next morning. Some folks continued on the next morning, while others calculated the time difference of leaving that morning vs. after the hike and decided to pass on the last leg.
I am most familiar with this portion of preparation. 50 miles in any conditions is no small task, let alone scaling mountains with a full pack of gear in snowshoes. Lunges, step ups, and rucking in snowy terrain are crucial to my preparation. Unfortunately for NYC folks, there is almost no snow to date. The “8” rating is mostly for the second half of the trek, when legs would be tired climbing up steep inclines with weight.
Although there was plenty of incline and lots of snowshoeing, the group pacing and frequent stopping meant less intense effort. I only barely broke a sweat a couple times during the trek. *This is obviously partially due to extreme cold, but even in those conditions I have been full on sweating when working hard enough.
Same as above, but a lower score because again with a group the pace could be slower and stops more frequent.
Cardio requirements were even less than expected. For 75-80% of our trek, I was casually enjoying the atmosphere and surroundings vs. dealing with a racing heart rate. *Note: Some of the ascents certainly got my pulse up, that is for sure.
Mental Toughness: “7”
I predict mental toughness to be required for patience when in a group format, and dealing with the extreme cold over such a long distance.
The team setting and trail finding made this even harder than expected. Again, pacing issues and remaining calm/cool/collected when not moving can really wear you down quickly. If you plan to make the full trek in 2016, be prepared.
Packing/Gear Complexity: “8”
To me, this is an 8. It’s tricky to plan my food choices, extra clothing, water insulation, footwear, and figure out how to properly attach snowshoes to my setup and I have not been in this environment before.
I kept this at an 8. Luckily, we stopped at EMS beforehand and I grabbed insulated covers for my nalgene bottles, as my bladder tricks failed.
Gear Must Haves:
1. Insulated Sleeves for your Nalgene Bottles
2. A face protector (neck gaiter/turtle fur) that can easily be slipped up and down (your own breath is a magical face warmer
3. Handwarmers- extras to use in nalgene sleeves, inside gloves, at the top of your bladder mouthpiece (if you are like Ted and want to actually use your bladder for more than 20 mins), or to give a friend in need
4. A hood or full face protector that you can BREATHE in at the top of summits or in high wind. I realized at one summit I could not breathe in mine (minor issue)
5. Trekking poles that were meant for winter (I tried to use modified summer poles and one snapped 30 minutes in)
6. Food you can stuff in pockets and is broken up into bite sized pieces (test your food by freezing some and eating prior to event
7. Downloaded (offline) maps that can be actively viewed on your phone without service (Great tip from Olof)
8. Bring a camera that works in this cold weather- don’t miss out on memories!
9. Water/Wind resistant gaiters, pants and shells (trust me, you don’t want to be wet)
10. Snowshoes you TESTED before the event. You don’t need to train in them, but you better be confident they wont be falling off your feet
With such an incredible group of people, I expect nothing but the best outcome from this event. To finish the 50 miles will certainly take a bit of luck, a lot of perseverance, and attention to gear/food/nutrition/hydration. Being tagged as a Team leader is stressing me out a bit beforehand, especially knowing that other peoples safety is now a bigger concern.
Being a team leader in a following group was much easier than expected, again thanks to the front team blazing the way. The group setting proved very trying and I had to be as patient as possible and accept that we had to move as a team, even if that meant slowly and steadily. This was an awesome experience. If you get a chance to join an event like this with such talented and inspirational people, you don’t pass it up. If you can’t deal with temperature control in sub zero temps and the pain associated with freezing toes/fingers/everything else- this is not the event for you. To me, this was less about pure physical effort and more about surviving harsh elements as a team, and not breaking down when things went wrong. I’m looking forward to Extremus 2016.
Extremus 2015 HIGHLIGHTS and PHOTOS: