Could you be Cowboy Tough?

By CHRISTINE PETERSON
Casper Star-Tribune

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) – Picture yourself trekking up to 15 miles through remote wilderness, mountain biking on rough single track about 30 miles, road biking 40 to 50 miles and biking on a fire road for another 100 miles all in one day.

Then imagine getting up and basically doing it again the next day, and the day after and one more day after that.

In between, toss in 20 to 30 miles of flat-water paddling, three miles of whitewater kickboarding and a few ropes courses.

Sound hard? It is. And anyone can sign up for the full-body throttle called REV3 Cowboy Tough – Wyoming Adventure Race brought to you by the state of Wyoming.

But before you gather your three closest friends-in-suffering and pay $600 per person, consider what it takes to train for this kind of event.

Experts say anyone fit enough to run a half marathon with the dedication to stick to training could be ready by July. The event will kick off July 18. The Star-Tribune asked some adventure racers how they prepare mentally and physically, and if they think this is a feat that could be accomplished by any mere mortal.

Not your average challenge

Adventure racing as a sport began in the late 1980s, started by a French journalist and adventure racer, according to Darran Wells, an assistant professor at Central Wyoming Community College who recently finished the new edition of his book NOLS Wilderness Navigation that talks about adventure racing.

The first race trekked across the South Island of New Zealand requiring teams travel by foot, bike and boat. In the mid-’90s, the Eco-Challenge Expedition Race began and spread the painful fun around the globe.

The basic premise is for a group of men and women to move from one place to another through jungles, mountains, glaciers, rivers or lakes using human-powered transportation. Race distances vary because racers can, at times, choose shorter, bushwhacking routes, or longer, slightly easier ones.

Wells first raced internationally on a sponsored team for the Eco-Challenge in 2000 on the island of Borneo. He worked as the navigator on a team of two men and two women and they traveled between 450 and 500 miles through the jungle and between islands.

“The only thing that’s a fair comparison is being in war,” Wells said. “I’m not a soldier, but I did race with a number of soldiers who made that comparison. You are under such a high level of physical stress for such a continuous time, it’s so physically and emotionally demanding.”

Wells competed as a semi-pro – companies paid for the race and gear, sometimes up to $70,000, but not a salary – until 2005.

Now he runs the outdoor education and leadership program for CWC and is working with REV3 and the National Outdoor Leadership School with some aspects of Cowboy Tough. Don’t ask him details of the race – he won’t tell. Not knowing the challenges is part of the masochistic fun.

What officials can say is that the race begins in Cheyenne and ends 3˝ days later in Casper. Mandatory checkpoints guarantee the two- or four-person teams finish by certain times or risk losing points or being forced to skip sections. Bonus checkpoints are added for the most serious competitors.

This means the average folks – those who aren’t racing as a career path – could catch some shuteye each night as long as they finish early enough.

Race officials hope to draw competitors from around the globe, said race director Michael Spiller in an August news conference announcing the race.

“This is going to be one of the toughest races in the world,” he said.

Get used to pain

The first step to training for something this long is training for a long time. Your body needs to feel what it’s like to sit on a bike seat for a hundred miles or run for 30, said Emily Tilden, an adventure racer and high school cross country ski coach in Lander, Wyo.

“Time management is tricky,” she said. “The quantity is too much to do solo all of the time.”

To compensate, Tilden trains with friends who specialize in one sport. She goes on every run with runners and every bike ride with cyclists.

She also recommends other races to help train. The Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run, a 50-mile foot race through the mountains, is a good one.

How long you need to train for depends on your “fitness age,” she said.

“Some of training depends on how many thousands of hours you’ve spent sitting on a bike,” she said. “Your body will go back to that and know it’s done that before.”

It’s also a matter of building up to certain distances similar to running a marathon, said Micah Rush, a Casper adventure racer.

If the race calls for 50 miles of running, you would want to build up to at least 25 miles of running at one time, if not more. Then add in the biking, and soon you could be training hundreds of miles a week on a bike and on foot.

“Then, when you build up the endurance, you put multiple days together,” he said. “I will get up and destroy myself for a day and then wake up the next day and do it again to get my body used to the shock.”

Teams also need to train at night and in bad weather. It’s one thing to be able to run during the day and another to stumble through forests exhausted in the dark, Wells said.

For Cowboy Tough, working out in heat is a must. The race will cross some of Wyoming’s high desert in the middle of July. Acclimatize for the heat as Everest climbers adjust for the altitude.

Each team also needs a navigator, someone who could be dropped in a forest in the middle of nowhere with a map and compass and find his or her way out, Wells said.

He recommends more than one person understand the skills though, just in case the navigator falls sick.

Doable, with caveats

So is Cowboy Tough for you?

It depends on how willing you are to suffer.

It also depends on your history with adventure racing. In order to qualify for Cowboy Tough, you or your team members must have completed one 24-hour adventure race before, according to the online rules. That doesn’t eliminate newbies this year; 24-hour races are scattered throughout the U.S. in the spring including REV3 Adventure’s Epic Adventure in Virginia in April.

Casper firefighter and adventure racer Marty Mittelstadt recommends trying a 12-hour race first. The shorter ones are plenty hard and include all the same challenges minus the necessary super-human stamina.

But if you’re already fairly fit – can run half marathons or complete long bike rides – you could be a candidate for the ultimate adventure, said both Wells and Rush.

“You have to know that you will suffer a little bit,” Rush said. “But suffering isn’t always bad.”

As long as it doesn’t kill you.

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