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Author: Toby Asplin
If you ask race director Zak Smith, the Competition Dynamics Sniper Adventure Challenge is the toughest tactical adventure race in the world. Hard to argue that - this year’s competition sprawled across three “missions”, 37.5 hours and loads of steep, rocky mountain terrain in eastern Wyoming.
To win the Sniper Adventure Challenge, two-person teams need world-class skill in land navigation, practical shooting with long-range rifle, carbine and pistols, fieldcraft, problem solving, physical challenges and other related tasks. Teams also need exceptional strength and endurance and an iron will that simply won’t allow them to quit. Competitors should also have an exceptionally high tolerance for pain and other discomfort. However…
This article is not about the winning team … or even one of the teams in the top ten. Plenty of those teams will also write after action reports (AAR’s). If you’re considering competing in the Sniper Adventure Challenge, I would recommend reading those AAR’s as well as this one.
This article is about my team - the team that finished 26th out of 30 teams, a couple “average” guys, one who started out 60-70 pounds overweight at the outset of our training, the other who turned 50 just a few days after the race. This article is about mistakes made and lessons learned. It may also include a few things done right.
So, if you have the urge to participate in the Sniper Adventure Challenge but don’t want to finish in the top half of the competitors … pay attention!
How NOT to Win the Sniper Adventure Challenge Tip #1: Be “Pretty Good” at Land Navigation
“Pretty good” simply won’t cut it. Thirty years ago, when I was in the Army, I was very good at land navigation. Thirty years is a long time for skills to go stale. My teammate and I simply did not spend enough time refreshing (for me) and learning (for my teammate) this skill. Ultimately, this is what took us out of the hunt for a higher finish.
The Challenge did not allow competitors to use any electronic devices for navigation. The checkpoints were often pencil-thin, orange stakes tucked away in the rocks or camouflaged by the reddish-orange dirt. Maps and UTM coordinates were issued at the start of the race. Competitors had to plot checkpoints and challenge locations while on the clock. Allowing the pressure of plotting on the clock to impact the quality of your plotting and routing will also keep you from winning the Challenge.
How NOT to Win the Sniper Adventure Challenge Tip #2: Start the Challenge with a Nagging Injury
If you’re not looking to win the Challenge, feel free to start with a nagging injury like I did. I have a herniated disc in my lower back that was aggravated by the long drive from eastern Nebraska to Wyoming. Rather than doing the smart thing and giving my back the break it needed, I simply started an Ibuprofen regimen and went ahead with the Challenge. For the most part, my injury didn’t keep me “out of the fight”. It did, however, nag away at me in the background as I climbed up and down boulders and jumped from ledges.
On relatively even terrain my injury wasn’t a problem. This event, however, is not about even terrain and there were plenty of challenges requiring physical strength. The race directors kicked things off with a log carry up a mountain road and followed that up with a climb up the side of a mountain.
If you start this event with any sort of nagging injury, it will affect your performance.
How NOT to Win the Sniper Adventure Challenge Tip #3: Allow Mistakes to Frustrate You
My team didn’t suffer from this malady but we saw it happen to other teams. Yes, we made mistakes. We made a couple huge navigational mistakes. But, we never really let them get us down.
When I was looking for a teammate, one of the key characteristics that I sought out was someone with an even keel and a positive outlook. Even when we thought we were completely out, due to a time disqualification, we kept going and kept our attitudes relatively positive.
If your attitude turns negative at any point during the Challenge, you’re unlikely to finish in the top ten.
How NOT to Win the Sniper Adventure Challenge Tip #4: Carry Too Much Gear (or Not Enough)
Again, this wasn’t a mistake that we made but we saw other teams carrying far more gear and much heavier packs than necessary. I understand that some teams did this because they are active duty military and this is what they carry in theater. They used the Challenge as a training event. If you’re going to carry the gear downrange, by all means carry it during the Challenge. If you’re a civilian, and you don’t want to win, by all means carry as much weight as possible.
We saw teams with full-length shovels, huge, poorly fitted packs stuffed full of who knows what and with all kinds of kit flopping around on the outside of the pack. Those are all great ways NOT to win the Sniper Adventure Challenge.
Several teams commented on our relatively small packs, incredulous that they contained the required gear let alone a few non-required items. This was something we put a lot of thought into and something that we did right. Our packs contained the required gear and a few other items like the Katadyn Hiker water filter that saved us from dehydration and, hopefully, Giardiasis when we had to refill our hydration bladders from a cattle tank.
How NOT to Win the Sniper Adventure Challenge Tip #5: Wear Sub-standard Footwear
In an event like this, if you don’t take care of your feet they can definitely take you out of the race. This was a borderline mistake for us. Absent other mistakes I don’t think it would have taken us out of the running for a top 50% finish. However, portions of the soles of the mid-ankle hiking boot chosen by my teammate were literally shredded by the end of the event. Conversely, my sturdier lightweight backpacking boots were virtually unscathed.
Early in the event we noticed a team wearing trail running shoes. I’m a trail runner. I have hundreds of miles on some of my trail running shoes but not in terrain like this. The lack of foot and ankle support in a trail running shoe, or in the average hiking boot, simply will not be adequate to put you in the top finishers in the Challenge … unless you’re some kind of super-human.
How NOT to Win the Sniper Adventure Challenge Tip #6: Fail to Understand the Race Rules
This was a big one for us. We read the rules. We memorized the rules. We reviewed the rules during the event. But, we still misunderstood the rules. We simply didn’t realize that we misunderstood the rules. There was an opportunity to ask questions before the event started but we thought we understood what we had to do.
If you don’t know the rules, you can’t play the game.
How NOT to Win the Sniper Adventure Challenge Tip #7: Forget That This is an Adventure
I do a fair amount of adventure racing and I’m always amused by the teams that complain about surprises during the event. It’s an ADVENTURE race.What part of ADVENTURE did you not understand when you signed up for the event?
This didn’t happen to us and I don’t recall hearing anyone else complaining about surprises during the Challenge. It happens frequently enough during adventure races that I thought it was worth mentioning. If you aren’t up for an adventure, don’t sign up for this event, or any other adventure race for that matter. You may win but you won’t be a winner. You’ll be a whiner.
That’s it. Seven tips to ensure that you don’t win the Sniper Adventure Challenge or any similar events … from someone who knows. Good luck!
I would like to add a special thank you to our sponsors: Canfield’s Sporting Goods, Hammer Nutrition and Targets Online.