Tuesday, June 27, 2006

With three days of PQ left, sleep is the ultimate strategy

(A racer lounges in the shade, one of few breaks each member gets in a day. Photo by Daniel Cassettari, courtesy of Cassettari and Primal Quest.)

There is no yellow jersey for the lead team to wear in Primal Quest. That's because in this 417-mile race across the Utah desert that combines everything from mountain biking to swimming, the team at the front isn't necessarily the team in the lead.

Confused? Let me explain.

The race is expected to take about five days. Teams can stop to eat and sleep where ever and whenever they want. Most top teams sleep two to three hours out of every 24, either in 15-minute catnaps, or two-hour swaths. Where you decide to sleep alters the standings.

For example, on the online, real-time gps map that tracks the teams (www.ecoprimalquest.com) team Spyder and Team Merrill are way ahead of team Nike. But they walked all night to reach their kayaks and begin a 45-mile long paddle. Nike stopped at about midnight for a few hours of sleep. Now they're playing catch-up. But the exhausted teams in the lead will eventually have to stop too. It's like pulling into the pit in car racing. You know everyone will have to do it, so you try to do it when it will give you the biggest advantage.

Surprisingly, no lead team has stopped during the heat of the day yet, even with the lack of shade and near 100-degree heat, but from now on, the whole pack will be leapfrogging one another as the drive to stop and rest becomes stronger and stronger.

In the end, it's the most disciplined teams that will prevail. It's things like the condition of a racer's feet, not how fast he can run, that will decide who can keep going.

Well, OK, that's a little naive. At this level, the top teams are all disiplined AND fast. So the competition is world-class. Racers like Nike's Mike Kloser are so good I'm starting to think they're cyborgs -- Stepford adventure racers, all smiles and good sportsmanship with unstopping legs and an unquenchable hunger for pudding cups.

Our photographer ran with them for a few hundred meters yesterday afternoon (trying to catch the race to the rope rappels) and was barely able to keep up, even though they had been going for over 100 miles.

They're expected to finish sometime Thursday after a long trekking section in the La Sal Mountains.

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