Every year in September a small group of dedicated individuals meet in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for the Endeavor Team Challenge. As Greg Hastings explains, “This isn’t the longest event out there, or the the most difficult, but it is the best executed.” He attributes that execution to two special groups of people – our volunteers and our competitors.
We are blessed with a volunteer staff of exceptional ability: Army Rangers, Special Forces Operators, EMTs, ski patrollers, doctors, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, local construction workers, and former competitors, to name a few. All contribute to the event’s success in immeasurable ways.
We are also always extremely humbled by the ability level and quiet professionalism of our amazing competitors. They come from all backgrounds, fitness levels, and skill levels, but they share a common element – they all are there for the right reasons. They seek to push themselves beyond their perceived limits, and they want to walk away from the competition proud of the effort they put in to both training for and competing in the event.
I agree with Greg, but I also attribute our ability to execute to one other factor – our tireless efforts to improve the event. It is easy to rest on your laurels and just run the same course year after year, but we refuse to rest. We will never accept the competition as good enough. Once you stop improving – you start getting worse.
Every year we send out a survey to our competitors from our previous years. And we take their feedback very seriously. This year our competitors had a lot of good things to say and just as many ways to improve upon the event. We digested the feedback and mapped out a path forward. Here are some highlights:
Land Navigation (or orienteering) always gets us the most comments on our survey. Trudging through the woods late into the night has a certain effect on people. This past year we had feedback that it was both too easy and too difficult, which means it was probably close to being right. However, we will place some very difficult points for the 2015 event to appease athletes that want to use their advanced map and compass skills. We are also considering offering extra points for these far off and difficult points to reward those who take on the challenge of finding them.
There was also a familiar complaint that I have gotten (and sometimes given) on every land navigation course that I have been a part of; “the point was not where it was indicated on the map.” We make significant efforts to ensure that they are exactly where they are placed on the map by using known terrain features and confirming each placement with 2 GPS devices. We will make similar efforts this coming year, and Greg and I will personally verify each point prior to the start of the competition.
Ambiguity vs. Preparation:
Part of the design of the Endeavor Team Challenge is that it is intentionally ambiguous. Each event is subject to change, distances are not disclosed, and additional challenges are to be expected. We do this to keep competitors guessing during the competition and to discourage competitors from building a fitness regimen around tasks that are too specific. Mentally tough competitors relish in the unexpected because they feel it gives them an advantage.
However, we can do a better job at giving new competitors insights into what will make them successful in the event. The main feedback was that we should suggest that competitors have the right footwear, pack as light as possible, waterproof their gear as much as possible, and have a good food plan. We will be soliciting blog posts from former competitors to discuss these topics. If you would like to write about one or all of these (or something else) please let us know.
The only major safety concern that was raised was that there were not enough water stations on the Crucible. We confirmed that each of the Aid Stations had water. However, several teams informed us that there was no water available. We are still not sure what caused the confusion. Next year we will ensure that the water cans are out and visible to all competitors at each of the Aid Stations. We will also require, once again, that all competitors carry a minimum 3 liters of water when starting the crucible.
Things that Won’t Change:
There are some things we won’t change. We know that this event pushes people in ways they didn’t predict. A few areas we don’t plan to modify follow:
Location. The Stanislaus National Forest provides the ideal terrain for the events we intend to provide year after year. The town of Bear Valley has been an incredible backdrop for the event, with the community coming out to support, volunteer for, and in a few cases, compete in the event.
Length of the Crucible. We keep the length of the Crucible purposely undisclosed to test competitor mental toughness, amongst other things. We had feedback from competitors that this event was far too long. One competitor alleged that it was 23 miles long. That made us smile. It may have felt that long – but it was actually only about 19 miles long. We will continue to vary the length of events. Some will be shorter, some will be longer. There may be challenges interspersed throughout them. You’ll have to show up to find out.
Getting Your Feet/Gear Wet. We understand that no one likes wet gear – especially when the temperature drops significantly at night. But this is a part of the challenge. We encourage competitors to plan accordingly. Waterproof your gear and take your time at water crossings. The number one reason competitors got their gear wet last year was by either making a poor poncho-raft at the lake crossing, or by making a good one and then dragging it across the rocks (tearing holes in the bottom) on the way to the water.
The Cost (unfortunately). Running this event is expensive. Last year insurance alone cost about $170 per competitor. Our goal is to run the best executed event possible. Every cent goes back into the event. We don’t pay ourselves a salary, and the vast majority of the staff are volunteers (we pay some – like the professional EMTs and Rock Climbing Instructors). But the equipment, construction, supplies, and permits add up. You can help us get the cost down is by reaching out to potential sponsors and telling them about the event. The more help we have from sponsors, the less we need to charge competitors.
Some Things That Will Change:
Larger Teams (3+): This year we are trying a small pilot of teams greater than 2 people. We received countless requests to open the field up to larger teams, but have said no for various reasons. This year we are opening up 5 spots for teams greater than 2 people as a pilot. They will not compete against the 2 person teams, and the event will be pass/fail; teams will advance through each phase of the event as long as they meet the minimum standards. We will see how it goes. If it is a success, we will consider opening up more slots in the future.
New Challenges: Each year we strive to keep the competition fresh. For example, this past year not one event was exactly the same as the previous year’s. We varied routes significantly, handed competitors bricks to carry on the Crucible, added an obstacle, and changed the teamwork reaction lane, strength event course, and battle drill event. You can expect similar changes in 2015. We will also incorporate a few additional mental challenges for competitors to keep them on their toes.
We are grateful to all the competitors that gave us feedback. Please feel free to send any additional comments our way. We are committed to continuing to improve the Endeavor Team Challenge in our effort to create the ultimate culminating fitness event. We look forward to seeing you in September.