Adventure Racers Are Made, Not Born: Turning North Idaho Into Off-Road Multi-Sport Mecca

It all started with an unflattering picture in Hawaii. The image of a whale that had beached itself on shore was actually the photo of a man, about to reach his turning point. “I realized I was fat, middle-aged and white,” says Dave Adlard, director of Adventure Sports Week. “I couldn’t change it all, but I could at least get into shape.”

Adlard went home and began training. Running a mile was painful. Swimming five laps was exhausting. But with the help from friends that mile turned into seven and then those laps turned into 20. “I was happy, getting healthy and thought I was getting pretty tough,” Adlard says. Then in the summer of 2007 he found adventure racing. Adlard fell in love with the sport and subsequently changed his life.

It only took three years for Adlard to become addicted. In the course of those years, he led his adventure racing team to the United States Adventure Racing Association (USARA) nationals, and founded a nationally accredited week of races called Adventure Sports Week. “By the time my team finished our first race we were doomed for life,” he says. “There’s just no limit when it comes to adventure racing. You get to go places and do things that normal, sane people would never do.”

But by the time his team started seriously racing, they started to notice some seriously flawed race courses. A combination of less than impressive awards, incorrect GPS locations and registration nightmares eventually led Adlard to Todd Jackson, director of Big Blue Adventures.

Big Blue Adventures hosts a number of multisport races, triathlons and trail running events throughout the west coast. “After competing in the Ocean Blue Adventure Race at Half Moon Bay,” Jackson says, “Adlard came to me and said, ‘Hey, I know the perfect location near my home for an adventure race.’ ”

As the saying goes, one thing led to another, which led to another, and by the summer of 2009, Adlard and Jackson planned and executed the first Adventure Sports Week at Farragut State Park. The duo originally planned an adventure race, which multiplied into a half marathon, which multiplied into an Olympic triathlon, which multiplied into a kayaking course. “Before we knew it, we had 24 races spanned throughout the course of 10 days,” Jackson sasy. “Given the location and venue it was too perfect for multi-use events.”

As a Funtastics Gymnastics coach in Coeur d’Alene, Adlard has hosted gymnastics meets for more than 30 years. Regardless, he admits he might have over-guessed his organizational skills when he took on the challenge of hosting nationally accredited races. The first year was a big learning curve, Adlard says. The week was long and hard but events ran smoothly and more than 700 racers competed.

Amongst those racers were some of the best in the world. Racers like Mike Kloser from Team Nike, Ian Adamson, Robyn Benincasa, Rebecca Rusch and Michael Emde dominated the playing field and shared their expertise. “The pros were amazed,” Adlard says. “We were even asked to bid for the 2011 Adventure Racing Nationals. Last year our motto was 10 days, 24 races and one big party, and we’re bringing it all back this year.”

Farragut State Park will hold the second annual Adventure Sports Week from June 4 to 13. Throughout the course of 10 days, the park will host 24 different races, vendors, entertainment, award parties and professional athletes. “There’s a little something for everyone,” Jackson says.

“Sometimes people don’t know what a great thing they have in their own back yards,” he adds. “Adventure Sports Week is becoming a high profile event and destination location because of the venue. Racers have the option to blast in for a day and do a race or spend the week. Rather than being on race pace, why not check out all the other trails Farragut State Park has to offer at the same time?”

Trail Blazing

With stunning vistas, incredible mountaintops and the shores of Lake Pend Oreille, Farragut State Park is the perfect backdrop for racing. “Farragut has a great inventory of trails and scenically it’s pretty tough to beat,” Adlard says, and he should know. As director he designs, organizes and sets every inch of every race. “I live close to Farragut so I can get up in the forest and get going,” he adds. “You’ve got to walk, run, bike, swim and kayak each step of the race to see if it’s doable. It’s all a part of training.”

Of all the miles he’s ran and all the cycling he’s done to prepare for Adventure Sports Week, nothing holds a candle to adventure racing. “It’s the biggest kick in the pants,” he says. “It’s kind of like a wild off-road triathlon where you don’t know where you’re going.” This year, Adlard has created a three-day, three-part adventure race. Although consecutive, the race will pause at the end of each day and each leg of the race is expected to take 8-14 hours to complete.

Adlard says the first thing you do toward creating a race is determine how long it will be. If the winning team makes it in 10 to 11 hours, you want the rest of the racers clocking in at 12 to 14 hours. The next step is for Adlard and his Adventure Sports racing team to wander throughout the woods.

“I want the courses to be really cool, with great vistas, lots of mountain tops, different bays and activities that are different and interesting,” he says. “I’ve seen courses before with parachuting, scuba diving, riding camels and body boarding down class three rapids.”

Once the points of interest are identified, Adlard uses topographic software and GPS systems to detail the courses on topographic maps. Once the preliminary course is set, Aldard, his team and Farragut State Park Rangers clear the trails, tweak GPS coordinates and follow the course segment by segment. The biggest challenge is to make sure the course flows, he says. Are there places to drop bikes? Access to water? Can you launch a kayak?

“By the time I get the three courses done I’ll have been going at it for four months. It takes about 20-30 rides per course to get it perfected.” Although Adlard can’t participate come race day, his team will. “I’m the only one who actually knows all the checkpoints,” he jokes. “If I kick the bucket we’re in a lot of trouble.”

Team member or not, Adler’s not about to share any of his race day secrets. Racers themselves don’t know where they are going until the maps are handed out the night before. With orienteering you really never know where or how you’re going to get there.

Race Day Events

But adventure races, triathlons and marathons happen every week throughout the county. What really sets Adventure Sports Week apart from the rest, is that only one venue hosts so many consecutive races. “I’ve never been to an event with so many races and as many elements,” says Michelle Haustein, private race director and producer. “It’s extremely rare and absolutely amazing.”

Coming from a women like Haustein, that’s a bold statement. Haustein became a volunteer for XTERRA racing due to a race day injury. Since then, she’s become part of the XTERRA staff, been the Director of Volunteers for Ironman races throughout the country, and is Director of Volunteers for the Coeur d’Alene’s Ironman, triathlon and marathon. “I don’t sleep from April to October,” she says laughing. “Then I hibernate like a bear.”

Haustein brought her organizing efforts to Adventure Sports Week last year. Adventure Sports Week is a director’s nightmare. “Adlard is an amazing person for not only doing it once but doing it again. A lot of events claim to be annual but they never get past the first year.”

Adlard doesn’t seem phased by all the permits, paperwork and sponsorship. He’s more focused on creating unique, challenging races. “People like that they can come for the week, do a triathlon Saturday, a mountain bike race on Sunday and then an XTERRA the following weekend.” he says. “I’m so busy running it I hope I get to do an adventure race myself. But I can’t just leave and be gone for 50 hours!”

Haustein said she misses being involved with Adventure Sports Week this year, but she’s excited to watch the event grow. “I heard people at a race in Tahoe talking about this weeklong event in Idaho,” she says. “The word about this ‘little race’ in Idaho has definitely gotten around the racing circuit. It really showcases what the state has to offer.”

This year hosts a full yet similar schedule of trail events, with the addition of a road triathlon and cyclocross race. If your training’s not up to par, spectators are encouraged to come. Most of the races cross or end straight through the middle of the venue, Jackson says. Spectators are also welcome to attend the post race parties, camping, vendors and the City of Bayview’s centennial celebrations.


“I’m not an endurance athlete, I’ve never been one,” said Jeni McNeal. “But I love the outdoors and I’m up for a new challenge.” The Spokane-based, formally-trained gymnast crossed paths with Adlard and in 2007 was thrust into the world of adventure racing. For the past three years, McNeal has been the female fixture on Adlard’s Adventure Sports Week racing team.

The transition from strength to endurance training hasn’t always been easy. “It took me three straight months to successfully run more than one mile,” she said. “Eventually your goals get higher and higher, and now training for 24 hours in the middle of the night in a snow storm seems pretty normal.”

Within three months McNeal knew she was physically capable of racing. Within six months, she completed the Grizzly Man Adventure race in Montana and was pretty much hooked. “I was very surprised by how well my body adapted,” she said. “But I’m not built for endurance and it’s always a struggle. I’m constantly evolving and progressing into an actual endurance athlete.”

Traditionally, adventure racing teams are made up of coed teams of four—most commonly three males and one female. Races last anywhere between 10 hours to 10 days. Teams members must stay within 50 to 20 feet of each other, and are responsible for setting their own schedule and carrying their own food and supplies.

“Strategy is really intriguing for me,” McNeal says. “There isn’t a course and no rhyme or reason as to when or where you’re going. When do you push? When do you sleep? How do you ensure the entire team is moving along and healthy at the same pace?”

No matter how prepared or organized the team may feel, there’s always room for the unexpected. Dark orienteering courses lead their way to navigation by the stars. Trees that look like good bicycle rests have three-inch barbs that blow out tires. Racers fall asleep while riding their bicycle, crash and thrash their frame. Swamps four feet deep must be waded and crossed, only to find there are water moccasin snakes in the water. “You just never know what’s gonna happen,” McNeal says. “Common lore is that it’s not over until it’s over.”

After a successful few years of racing—even a trip to nationals—the Adventure Sports Week racing team is looking to compete in expedition races that fall anywhere from three to seven days. Right now, the team has their eyes set on 310-mile Desert Winds Expedition race in Nevada.

McNeal looks forward to the challenge where as a female, she might be more competitive. “Keeping up with three very fit men is challenging,” she says. “When you’re looking at 10 to 12 and more hours it’s a different ballgame. After 12 hours someone is always crashing and hurting, the gender difference completely falls away.” Until then, the team (minus Adlard) has their sites set on the Midnight Ramble and the Crux and the Crucible adventure race at Farragut State Park.

The team’s training varies by each persons schedule, but the goal is to do a simulated 24-hour adventure race at least once a week, McNeal says. Rides in Riverside State Park, trail run along the Spokane River or up Mt. Spokane, kayaking the Little Spokane River and of course treks throughout Farragut State Park are among the teams favorites.

“It’s always a struggle to work full time and train,” McNeal says. “You find the time. It’s not unusual to get done with work at 9:30 at night and go work out for 2 hours or be in the gym by 4 a.m. Some people call it obsessive but it’s necessary for adventure racing. Every little bit helps.”

Of the 12 races she’s competed, nothing compares to the scenery and single tracks along Lake Pend Oreille. McNeal said she’s looking forward to the three adventure races, which will be her longest event to date. “I’m just going to keep pushing the envelope really,” she says. “I think I’m successful at this level so I’m stepping it up. We’ll see what happens.”

Adlard said he expects a bigger turnout of racers this year with a 50:50 ratio of new versus experienced racers. In addition to a core of local athletes, racers from Oregon, California, Texas and Colorado have already preregistered. “The more people try racing the more they enjoy it,” Adlard says. “It’s such a kick.”

And Adlard should know. He’s come a long way from the bulge and beaches of Hawaii. He may still be white and even more middle-aged, but this man is in great shape all because he fell in love with a sport. “Adventure racing has changed my life,” he says. “It was truly a life saver. Over time you learn, and your expectations of what you’re capable of change. If someone had told me I’d be doing this two years ago I’d just laugh.”

Event registration is open and available at Registration will close 30 minutes before the check in time
of each race.

For more information, including kayak rentals, bicycle shipping and a complete calendar of events visit

For race, sponsorship and volunteer inquires contact Dave Adlard at (208) 664-0135 or, or Todd Jackson at (530) 546-1019 or

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