September 19, 2017

Reflections on Not Finishing The Endeavor Team Challenge

I really did not want to write this post. In fact, I had a whole other idea about what this post would be like – one where I detailed the glories and thrill of finishing.

Unfortunately, that did not happen.

Team 12 missed the Day Land Navigation time hack and could not continue on.

That just breaks my heart to say.

The Endeavor Team Challenge

The Endeavor Team Challenge is a fantastic event. It’s the ultimate test of an athlete’s physical and mental training. The challenge consists of several events starting off with a crucible ruck march through the beautiful Sierras followed by an assortment of challenges including mountaineering, obstacle course, land navigation (day and night), feats of strength and ends with a long run through the hills.

It’s challenging, well run and the competitors are first rate. The standards are high and the terrain is unforgiving. You have to come with your A+ game or you will go home.

Running Our Race

Our Endeavor Team Challenge started out great. As a team, we talked a lot about how we would pace ourselves, our overall strategy for events and what limitations we had. It was exciting to venture off into the beautiful Sierras on the noble quest to push us to be our best.

Crucible Ruck March + Battle Drill

The first event, the crucible ruck march, is meant to wear you out. It’s anywhere from 15–20 miles, up and down mountains, along sweeping vistas and deep into majestic forests. You don’t even get to start the skills portion until you get past the ruck.

Our ruck started out, as we wanted, with a warm-up pace to get the old injuries and joints warmed up. As the ruck progressed, I was progressively beating up my feet because I made a fatal flaw – wearing boots. Normally, boots for a ruck make a lot of sense but for this particular event, it was a liability because I did not train with boots as much as my trails shoes.

The first stop on the ruck march had us doing the Battle drill, which is 5 events that test your push, pull, lift, throw and carry abilities. These drills were a gut check on how well your functional training is. We fared well and ranked 27/40. Not blowing anyone away but good enough to continue on.

After finishing the crucible ruck march, we took a needed rest to take care of my feet. Even though I bathed in Trail Toes, I missed both ankles, which had two nicely formed blisters ready to be popped. Thankfully, I had packed my Trail Toes blister kit and within short order, I was good to go. Our crucible ruck rank was 30/40. Not great but still in the game.

Obstacle Course

The obstacle course is unique and challenging. Not as challenging as say American Ninja Warrior, but challenging enough that after I had black and blue marks all over my body.

There were a total of seven obstacles, including a refreshing swim. All were challenging and consisted of some sort of jumping, climbing up ropes, hanging from bars, sliding down rings and climbing up walls. Thankfully, all of my functional fitness training paid off and we completed all of them. We ranked 26/38 on this one and felt great to have completed all of them with only one penalty.

Strength

Thankfully, all the Gym Jones, GORUCK, SEALFIT and Dan John workouts paid off big on this. Functional fitness workouts are the best at preparing for these types of events because you just don’t know what you’ll have to do.

This event was about moving a bunch of odd shaped objects up a steep slope and then bring them back down. Some of the objects were just heavy enough that it required both teammates while others were just plain awkward. I’m glad that I have done a bunch of GORUCKs (my teammate as well) because the movements and weights were exactly what a Cadre would throw at you. We ranked 24/38 on this one. After this event, we were feeling strong and upbeat.

Mountaineering

By far, this was the best event we did. There is nothing like the feeling of zip lining across a gorge. The views were spectacular. Even for a novice like me, climbing up the side of a granite rock face was exciting. I can see why people love to rock climb.

We could have done better on this if we had more rock climbing training. The climbing routes were ranked from easy to difficult and we choose the easiest simply because it’s better to complete an event than fail. We ranked 23 on this one with a lot of people tying for 23rd. I guess everyone had the same thoughts we did.

Day Land Navigation

Land navigation was our last event in the competitor field and the one both of us dreaded. We started off strong and generally knew where we were going. What tripped us up was not having the confidence to know that we were at the right point and that our counts were correct. Counts are the number of steps you take for a particular distance. It’s critical that you count correctly or you could be way off.

It turns out that we were close to the point we needed to hit because another team came up on us looking for the same one. They found it and we did not.

This was a real mental downer because we were so close yet could not close the gap. At this point the fatigue and teamwork fell apart. We struggled to loop around and around the place we thought it was to only be more and more frustrated. As darkness came upon us, we had no other choice than to make the walk of shame back to the rally point. That was a real bummer.

It Starts and Ends With Training

If I were to single out one thing that contributed the most to my team not completing Endeavor, it would be training. Everything starts with training. My training plan neglected a few critical aspects of Endeavor that really stacked the odds of success against my team.

Painful Lessons Learned

It’s painful to admit that I was not prepared to take on Endeavor. What will be even more painful is not to learn the lessons from this experience as well as sharing them with others. Endurance athletes tend to just post the successes and those are great to experience but just reading success will not prepare you for success. You have to also understand how things can go wrong and learn from those painful mistakes. Some of my lessons learned are presented below:

  • Select The Proper Footwear: I should have known to use my trail shoes instead of boots but I missed that. For an adventure race, boots are a liability. You need to be nimble and quick. To top it off, I trained little with boots and that cost me.
  • Train with your Teammate: My teammate and I live far apart and that made it hard to train together. We did come together as a team but that was not enough. We needed more training time to work out the kinks in our team dynamics.
  • Always Save Time: We started out at a leisurely pace to get used to the altitude and warm up nagging injuries. That was a mistake. We should have set a brisk pace to start in order to save time. Time is a cruel mistress.
  • Stick with Your Teammate: There were times when both of us were farther away than we should have been. We were still within eyesight and shout-sight but it was clear that as a team, we were in different places. One thing we should have done is connecting a bungee between us so we would always be close. This was another sign that we needed to train more together.
  • Pack Light: As I normally do, I packed way too much. In hindsight, this was also a training issue. The one thing I packed too much of was clothes and of course too many shoes. The packing list for the event was comprehensive and easy to follow. The trick is quantity and quality of the gear. In terms of food, I was happy with what I packed – at least I nailed that.
  • Practice Land Navigation Skills Ruthlessly: Land navigation can be tricky especially if you are tired and frustrated. This was our big flat spot as a team. We needed to practice navigation until it was automatic. The good news is that we did not get lost – we just could not find our point. I guess that’s better than nothing.

Overall, not finishing Endeavor came down to not being properly prepared. We clearly had the strength and drive to get it done – we just lacked the training to keep it all together. Like anything, if you are not properly prepared, anything that goes wrong will and that will make it a lot more challenging to recover from simple mistakes.

The Journey Forward

The Endeavor Team Challenge is the ultimate test of functional fitness. It’s a fantastic event with strong competitors. It’s also a ton of fun. I look forward to training harder for next year’s event and seeing if I have what it takes to finish the Endeavor Team Challenge. If you want to see the final ranks, you can click here