Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Endeavor Team Challenge : Race Report Team Ryan Ross, Robert Finlay

Team Endeavor Challenge 2013 - The Finish, Ryan Ross, Robert Finlay
Team Endeavor Challenge 2013 - The Finish, Ryan Ross, Robert Finlay 

Alpine, CA - 7, 8 September 2013

The first mention I saw of this event was, in the words of the organizers, two former US Army Rangers, “the Endeavor Team Challenge is a monumental test of fitness”. Paraphrasing the descriptions of the event I found on their website and Facebook pages - teams of 2 would face 30 plus hours and 40 miles of mountain summits, obstacle courses, lake and stream crossings, physical challenges, multiple long movements of undisclosed distances of 10 to 20 miles, climbing and rappelling, kayaking, mental challenges and stress, memorization/recitation, problem solving, false finish lines, extra equipment to carry, limited sleep, day and night orienteering, culminating in something called a Sole Survivor run, and at an undisclosed place and time teams would face another challenge, something called the OPT Battle Drill, a crossfit torture test programmed by Crossfit Games Champion James Fitzgerald.

Well, that sounded like a good time to me. Immediately I contacted Ryan Ross to form a team. Inadvertently we had already been preparing for this event because well, that's kind of what we do. Both Ryan and I have years of adventuring racing experience under our belts. Now supposedly we would need only to fine tune ourselves to the specifics of this event.

Preparing for this challenge as it turned out, would be easier said than done. Obstacle courses are something that I, in the Army 30 some years ago, set records on. The same could be said of physical fitness tests. But, that was 30 some years ago. As game time approached and my weaknesses were becoming more and more evident, trepidation crept into my usual over-the-top confidence. From the time I first heard of this event until start time, I had just 35 days to prepare.

At the check-in on Friday September 6, there was an impressive display of athletes milling about. 39 teams would check in and start the event the following morning, 26 would finish. We would finish 6th overall.

As it transpired, beginning at 0600 hrs Saturday Sept 7...

The Crucible:
The Crucible would be an 18 mile speed hike with full pack (all our food and gear for the two days, i.e. everything we had for the race), with about 4000 feet of elevation gain and at about 12 miles into this speed march would be a 200 yard swim across an alpine lake.

Team Endeavor Challenge 2013 - The Gear
The Gear

This event was scored by time. Happily, very happily, we came in 2nd. We were strong on the uphills, but teams would catch us on the downhills, our transitions from hiking to swimming and back to hiking were fast. On the last hill, mapped as Osborne Hill, with just a few miles to go, I was moving my legs as fast as they would go, but it was Ryan who pushed, pulled, and prodded me to a strong finish in this event.

Team Endeavor Challenge 2013 - The 18 mile Crucible March
18 mile Crucible March

Team Endeavor Challenge 2013 - Ryan durning the Crucible Swim
Ryan durning the Crucible Swim

The Competitor Field:  I can't tell you how much fun the competitor field was. It was super fun! There were five events, some we did exceptionally well at, some not so well.

As it transpired beginning a few minutes after finishing The Crucible...

1. The Competitor Field, Mountaineering:  First, a mandatory rappel for certification only - this sub-event was not timed.

Second, a rock climb for time with the possibility of a bonus time added - a team could choose from several climbs with varying difficulties. We chose a 5.7, figuring that we could (a) both could climb a 5.7, (b) climb it fast, and (c) receive some bonus points for our effort. This strategy worked for us. I climbed the 60' climb that we had chosen in 1 minute, 29 seconds, Ryan's time was only a few seconds slower. Here's an article explaining rating systems for rock climb difficulty.

Third, a 300 foot single rope suspension bridge 300 feet above a small canyon - a spectacularly fast and fun event, this was scored by time.

We placed 2nd overall in the mountaineering event.

2. The Competitor Field:  The Strength Event:Here we were presented with an assortment of interesting objects to move across the length of a soccer field and back. All objects had to be moved across before we could begin bringing them back. These objects were a 100 lb rock, 2 ski lift chairs, a huge roll of netting, 2 steel wheels, a 2'x2'x2' plywood cube, and a railroad tie. This would be scored by time.

I thought we were fast on this. We were not so fast. We placed 24th in the strength event. I offered the strategy that we used. I think my strategy was flawed. Nevertheless, this event was fun.

3. The Competitor Field, Day Land Navigation:  We would head back up Osborne Hill with full packs for this orienteering course. Some challenging aspects of this course were; (1) the points we were to locate were not necessarily spotted on significant terrain features and (2) the grid we were to use to measure our bearings were the range lines of public land survey which are sometimes close enough as north-south lines but not the true north meridians or even the Universal Transverse Mercator/UTM grid north-south lines which are normally associated with measuring bearings on a map for a conversion to a magnetic bearing for use with a compass. If you're not familiar with all that land nav talk, here's a Wikipedia article which may help explain; Magnetic Declination. We were to get as many points as possible in 2 hours. I found this course very challenging, not frustrating in any way, but very interesting. Ryan and I put our heads together, navigated fairly well and we ended up placing 2nd in the day land navigation event.

4. The Competitor Field, The Obstacle Course:  There were six obstacles, followed by a half mile run to an alpine lake and another 200 yard swim. Teams would be scored by the number of obstacles both teammates completed and then by time. This event measured teamwork, strength, speed, coordination, agility, and problem solving. For us, four of the obstacles allowed fast fluid movement, while two of them required laborious teamwork. 

We placed 17th in this event.

Team Endeavor Challenge 2013 - The Obstacle Course
The Obstacle Course

Our placement of 17th doesn't really tell the story. We actually demonstrated good speed, strength, and agility. However, we suffered from inattention to detail in a couple of respects. The details we overlooked were; one could not touch any part of an obstacle marked in red and teammates were required to stay in close proximity to one another throughout the course.

My inattention to detail caused me to twice touch off limit red zones. Frustratingly, I had to start those two obstacles over.

Ryan's 'problem' was his speed, strength, and enthusiasm. He went through two or three of the obstacles so fast, he had to, frustratingly, redo those obstacles, the second time staying closer to his slower teammate, which was me.

Though the obstacle course was fun, it was our own inattention to details which caused us a bit of frustration and the relatively low placement of 17th. Next time, we'll try to engage our brains a little more.

5. The Competitor Field, The Team Reaction Course:  This event was designed to test our ability to work together to solve problems under stress, which I think Ryan and I are usually pretty good at solving problems under stress.

We were given a couple of poles about 7 feet long, three smaller diameter shorter poles, and six pieces of cordage, these items were ostensibly to make a ladder. Most teams did in fact make a ladder. We did. However, we witnessed one team solve the entire team reaction course without a ladder and I believe they had the fastest time on this course.

Given those items, our goal was to negotiate first a small wall of straw bales, then a structure about 10 feet tall and 10 feet across, and then ascertain a number that was in a bucket suspended about 15 feet in the air, with that number, we would solve an arithmetic problem, the solution to which would give us the combination to open a lock box. We were required to use the given items, without destroying them, and return them to the position we found them.

We only placed 17th in this event. Our problem solving was generally quick. However, our problems in the event were; our lashings on our ladder began to unravel about halfway across the 10 high structure, we misplaced one of the cords for which we ran around in circles until we found it, and our arithmetic was slow, painfully slow, i.e. we had trouble opening the lock box because we had trouble adding and subtracting. Basically, we flubbed this event. It was the last event for us on the Competitor Field, I think we were tired by this time.

Overall, we finished 10th on the Competitor Field.

Now a couple of hours rest while other teams finished up their events on the Competitor Field and then we would be bused to the start of the night land navigation event.

Beginning at 2200 hours September 7...

Night Orienteering:
This event was designed, in the words of the event organizers, “to test competitors’ navigation ability and strategy, teamwork, and grit while battling exhaustion”, sounds good to me! I was looking forward to this event. Generally, I am competent with a map and compass and I enjoy solving difficult night nav problems. So, I had high expectation for our team. This would prove however, to be a challenging night orienteering course.

We were dropped off about 6 or so road miles from the vicinity of the Competitor Field which would be the finish line for this event. Our map presented us with 10 points to acquire, spread over an approximate 12 square mile area. We were tasked with acquiring as many points as possible in 6 hours, which would mean arriving at the finish by 4 AM on Sunday. A team was required to acquire at least 2 points. If a team arrived after 4 AM, no points would be awarded.

And here was the interesting twist to this particular orienteering course - at the location of each orienteering point was a pile of bricks marked with that point's number, to prove acquisition of a point, a team would have to arrive at the finish line with a brick representing that orienteering point. The more points a team acquired, the more bricks that team would carry.

It was a moonless night but the points were well marked, each with two chem lights. Wandering around in the night and navigating is always an interesting experience. Watching other teams doing the same thing is also very interesting.

Making your mistakes and watching other teams make mistakes can be very amusing. But I was thinking and Ryan remarked, “there seem to be a lot of competent teams out here tonight” and so it seemed.

We did not seem so competent. At midnight we had only one point. After 2 hours and an inordinate amount of time in the woods searching to no avail for our second point, Ryan and I were sitting on the side of the road, bemoaning the fact that we were really not very good at night navigation.

But after a few minutes rest, we got back on our feet and got back in the game. In the end, we did OK. We arrived with about 10 or so minutes to spare finishing the Night Orienteering 4th overall. I was happy with that. I learned a lot from this O-course.

The OPT or Battle Drill would be presented to teams at an undisclosed place and time. As we finished the Night Orienteering, that place and time was just disclosed.

For us the Battle Drill began a few minutes after 4 AM and ended one hour later...

The OPT (OPT - from James Fitzgerald's Optimum Performance Training) or Battle Drill:
The sub-events of this fitness test were disclosed to us weeks beforehand. Thus, the Battle Drill would test our ability to train for and perform a known physical challenge, a crossfit sort of challenge.

There were three events in the Battle Drill. Each with their own sub-events. We had one hour to complete as much of the Battle Drill as we could.

Event 1 – Throw, Jump, and Sit:  As a team we had 10 minutes to complete this event which was, our best overhead throw with a 16 lb. iron ball, a standing broad jump, and an L-sit (supported on hands, legs extended). Our ranking was 10th overall in Event 1 of the OPT, although we did get 2nd in the L-sit.

Event 2 – Shared Pushups, Jump-ups, Railroad Tie Team Carry:  As a team we had 20 minutes to complete this event which was, five rounds of the following; 40 shared pushups, 40 shared 2' jump-ups, and a 50 yard railroad tie carry. Our ranking was 10th overall in Event 2.

Event 3 – Suicide Sprints and the infamous Burpee-Pushup-Broadjump:  As a team we had the remaining time of the one hour to complete as many rounds as we could of the following: Each of us, one at a time, would run to a 15 yd. line and back, to a 25 yd. line and back, and to a 35 yd. line and back, followed immediately by burpee-pushup-broad-jumping 50 yards then the other competitor would follow. We would alternate this for five rounds or until the clock ran out. 

Our ranking in Event 3 was 10th overall.

We ended up ranking 10th overall in the OPT Battle Drill. This was much better than I had expected. Ryan for his part set his all time record in the L-sit and did more than his share of the shared pushups of Event 2.

There was one more event, The Sole Survivor or Final Run, beginning at 0730 hours Sunday September 8...

The Sole Survivor or Final Run:
The race organizers woke everyone up from their bivouac about forty minutes before the start of the Final Run and playing on the sound system was the theme song for the movie “The Last of the the Mohicans”. If you saw that epic historical and wildly romantic movie, you might have walked away impressed with how much running through the woods was going on. I thought it an appropriate wake-up song.

This would be a trail and jeep road run of about 10 miles followed by 1 mile paddle across a lake, a short sprint to the top of a cliff, a 60' rappel, a sprint down the hill back to the boat, and a 1 mile paddle back across the lake to the Finish Line. We finished this event in 9th position at about 11 AM. BTW, we were pretty fast in the kayak, reeling in one team that had passed us on foot, but we needed more miles on the water to really show our paddle strength.

Our finishes in the events; The Crucible, 2nd; The Competitor Field, 10th; Night Orienteering, 4th; The OPT, 10th; and the Final Run, 9th; gave us a final ranking of 6th overall and we were very happy with that.

Team Endeavor Challenge 2013 - Final Standings
Team Endeavor Challenge 2013 - Final Standings

Would I ever do another Endeavor Team Challenge? Of course I would. 


  1. Robert, Thank you for recounting your adventures with these posts. Succinct, yet detailed enough to draw us readers into your Adventures - thanks for sharing!

    1. John, well thank you for reading them. Revisiting these memories in my mind and then recounting them on paper has been a lot of fun. I'll keep at it. I thank you as well for sharing your wonderful wildlife photos.