About 15 years ago, during an internship for my degree in Adventure Recreation (yes that's a real major) I had to create a "special project" for the church youth group I was working with. It ended up becoming the first-ever large scale scavenger hunt style "race" I would create. Teams traveled around the surrounding community getting to various checkpoints, collecting clues, etc. What was so unique about that event was that we incorporated secret "spies" that were strategically placed in the town waiting to "attack" the teams. They'd be sitting on a park bench reading a newspaper and suddenly drop it and drench them with water guns, or find a team walking from one checkpoint to another, drive by, and bomb them with water balloons. In general, a sense of fear and paranoia make it much more difficult (and exciting) for teams to travel around a town completing a scavenger hunt. There was a lot more to that event but I won't reveal too much in case we launch a similar event at some point in the future (which has been discussed).
12 years later we launched our first Xplore Race, and the first-ever leaderboard in the Urban Adventure Racing industry. After each of the first two race seasons ended we interviewed the champion team and posted it here in our blog. This past year there were 4 teams that consistently battled it out at the top of the leaderboard throughout the season. So when the last team crossed the Finish Line in New Orleans last December and our season came to a close, we thought instead of just interviewing the team that won, we'd interview all 4 teams and try to get some perspective on what it takes to become an elite Urban Adventure Racing team!
Here's some incredible stats:
1. These 4 teams combined to race 26 times throughout the season!
2. These 4 teams combined to race for more than 48+ total hours in 2015!
3. At least one of these 4 teams was racing in every single one of our events in 2015, including both X-Races, and there were 10 events where 2 or more of these teams raced against each other directly!
1st Place - The Nads (Colorado)
Team Captain Andy Almonte has shown that he is one of, if not THE, best Urban Adventure Racer in the country. He once again led his team to the top of the leaderboard to become back to back champions.
2nd Place - TeamShaw (Texas)
Team Captain Brandin and his team were constantly battling with The Nads atop the leaderboard in 2015. With four 1st place finishes around the country and never finishing outside of the Top 5, they have proven that they are just as elite as any other team in the country.
3rd Place - Adventure Is Out There (DC)
Team Captain Chris and his rotation of athletic and fun teammates may be the most consistent team in the country. Racing 3 times in 2015 (compared to 7 each by The Nads and TeamShaw) they never finished out of the Top 3 and have been dominating in every city along the East Coast for years.
4th Place - Schultz Happens (Texas)
Team Captain Kris may be the smartest and most prepared racer in the country, and she has consistently proven that being prepared gets you top finishes in the Xplore Series. With the support of her twin sister, and her adorable 4-legged mascots, she is not only a fierce competitor on the pavement, but a fun and supportive friend to all teams at the finish.
1. What was your favorite experience or checkpoint from the 2015 season?
The Nads - Oh man. There were so many checkpoints that I liked for different reasons. I liked doing skee-ball (Denver) and shooting baskets (Seattle) for the skill of them. I liked getting credit for checkpoints in which I thought outside the box (ie. digital temperature in Houston). And even though it is sometimes hard to interact with strangers when you are all sweaty and sometimes in a panic, getting a stranger to participate and smile make for good videos and pictures later on (Houston, Phoenix).
Shultz Happens - Running through a city in the middle of a race and seeing one of the friends I have made over the years in Xplore Races, and giving them a quick hug or high five in passing and going off in our separate ways is always a highlight, because the friends I have made through Xplore Races these last few years has been such a big part of why I enjoy it so much. I have met such fun and interesting people along the way, and I respect them all so much, not just for their racing abilities, but they are just good humans. I think Xplore Races attract people who are fun loving and curious about the world and kind of open to the world in a way that is really unique, and that makes for really good, interesting people. And usually we have to wait until the finish line to see each other, because we all have our unique strategies that make sense to us and you don't always see each other on the course. But it is such a great surprise when it happens.
2. What was the toughest experience or checkpoint, or something that really impacted how you did in a race? Or just toughest Xplore city in general?
TeamShaw - Without a doubt, Seattle was my toughest city from the 2015 season. I still shake my head every time I think of it. Furthermore, I will never be able to pass a basketball pop-a-shot game again. That was the checkpoint that cost me everything that day...a 4th place finish and a huge shakeup in the leaderboard points.
Adventure Is Out There - Finding a parking garage in NYC that would allow us to go up to the 2nd level (for the money catch challenge).
The Nads - There was a checkpoint that involved having one teammate throw a paper airplane from the second story of a parking garage to a second teammate who had to catch the plane. It also needed to be filmed. Since I was running by myself I had to convince a stranger to come into a parking garage with me (not creepy at all), look casual to a parking cop, and throw a paper airplane to me while I selfie filmed the whole thing. Once I finally convinced someone to do this, he threw the plane into a fenced in area in which I couldn't catch or retrieve the plane. It finally ended up being my skip and I had to run all the way out to a sculpture that I wasn't planning on running to.
3. What's the one piece of gear you make sure you don't leave home without when heading to an Urban Adventure Race (or was the most critical to your team's success in 2015)
The Nads - In a regular UAR a smart phone is something that is imperative. Being able to look stuff up, look at maps and bus schedules, and also "phone a friend" is key. Since a smart phone is required in Xplore races, another piece a equipment that I use is a second phone. Yes, that's right, another cell phone because on one phone I look at the clue sheet, google stuff and take photos in which I need to upload onto Bonfyre. The other phone is for staying in communication with my "phone a friend". I'm usually just borrowing my father-in-law's flip phone.
4. How do you train or prepare for these events?
Shultz Happens - I really geek out on learning everything I can about the cities I race in. I spend ridiculous amounts of time looking at maps and streetview and photos and - this is going to sound silly- but I watch movies and TV shows filmed in the cities where I race and annoy people by pausing the show and looking at the background and trying to figure out where the characters are. It is oddly satisfying when I notice the alley on a cop show that is supposed to take place inNew York City is actually right around the corner from Clifton's Cafeteria in downtown Los Angeles. And I sometimes get a little riled up when I realize a character in a movie is supposedly living in one part of New Orleans, wakes up late for work, and rides her bicycle in a roundabout sort of way in the wrong direction to get to the place where she supposedly works. I know it looks good on film for her to be on that scenic bike ride on her way to work. But if she wakes up late and is in such a hurry, there is no way she would go that direction. And then I feel the need to text my sister about it. And she's saying, "Kris, it's just a movie ..."
5. What advice can you give to a team that is just starting out in Urban Adventure Racing?
Shultz Happens - Have fun, number one. Pay attention to details. Don't get discouraged if a checkpoint doesn't go right or you turn the wrong way or make a mistake. Sometimes you can actually make mistakes work for you. Never sweat on your phone if it has powdered sugar on it from another checkpoint. It just turns into a weird paste.
6. How did your racing team initially get formed and what was your first event like?
Adventure Is Out There - Chris and Geoff had done the races in 2014 with another friend when they lived on the west coast. Once they both moved to DC, where we all live, Geoff and I started dating, (and now he's my husband, So you can say that your races helped us bond more and eventually pave the way to marriage, if you want ;) ) Our first race was Philly, and I had no idea what to expect, but really enjoyed it.
TeamShaw - My wife and I began racing together in 2014 as TeamShaw. It was really a last second thing, because the friend I was going to race with had to back out at the last minute. My wife Stephanie said, “I’ll do it with you if you need someone”. We finished that race in 9th place, followed that up with a 3rd place finish the next time we raced together, then we started finding ourselves with solid 1st or 2nd place finishes. We have a great support group that we couldn’t race without. As a matter of fact, the person that now provides our phone support during the races is the guy who originally had to back out on me.
7. What does it take to be a top team in the Xplore Race series?
The Nads - Sign up and race with a fun group of friends. Once you get hooked you start to look at areas that you can improve (i.e. I can be faster or we can both be on our cell phones looking stuff up). Once you get serious you start recruiting friends to help you on their days off.
Figure out how to travel super cheap to other cities. I travel cheap by flying into a city the day of the race, do the race and then fly back that evening. I don't have to pay for a hotel and it's fun trying to learn how I'm going to get to the starting area. The adventure begins before the race.
TeamShaw - A flexible work schedule, a great support team, a few plane tickets, and a knack for connecting the dots.
Adventure Is Out There - You need to be willing to travel to different cities to be one of the top teams on the leaderboard (it can be pricey, but it's a lot of fun to discover new cities with friends!)
Shultz Happens - A sense of adventure, a sense of humor, the willingness to look a little goofy, and the ability to adjust andchange your plans quickly, and improvise.