Dean Pierson and Lee Walker (Team 21), both of Salisbury, Maryland, are the 2014 Endeavor Team Challenge Champions. We sat down with them recently to learn more about their training, gear decisions, race day strategies, and lessons learned from this year’s event. We ended up talking for the good part of an hour, and took extensive notes. We then distilled them down to these the top five lessons.
Lesson #1: Pick a partner that complements your strengths and weaknesses
One of the keys to Team 21’s success was that they brought different abilities and skills to the competition. Dean learned about the Endeavor Team Challenge through his son who competed in 2013, and he had heard a lot of stories about the scale and complexity of the competition. He knew he needed to find a partner that would complement his strengths and weaknesses in order for his team to do well in this test of fitness that would challenge even the most versatile athletes. Dean’s main strengths are mountaineering, rock climbing, and long distance bike riding. He chose Lee, who had just finished the Leadville 100 ultra-marathon, as his partner because he knew that Lee’s long distance running experience, superior swimming ability, and general upper body strength would be very good traits to round out his team.
They each had to lean on each other for help throughout the competition, each needing extra assistance from the other on different parts of the course. Dean’s strengths helped the team do well in traversing the hilly terrain. On the other hand, Lee led them through the tough obstacle course and the final run. While their differences in physical attributes played to their advantage as a team, their differences in personalities also played a part in their success. Dean’s competitive attitude may have pushed them through to be first over the finish line, but Lee’s laid-back nature helped them immensely on their pacing strategy.
Lesson #2: Pace yourself
When Dean and Lee took that first step on the course, they had no expectations for earning that championship title. Their goal was just to finish the event. Dean’s son knew his father was competitive and had warned him, “Dad, you just need to focus on finishing the race because anything can happen.” They strategized by letting others pass them on the initial event- The Crucible Road March, a grueling 18+mile land movement through very difficult terrain up and over two mountain peaks. Lee’s natural patience and his experience at Leadville also held them back from going full force on the initial march. He had seen the benefits of letting eager runners pass him while he steadily kept moving forward at his own pace while always keeping the goal in the mind – finish the race. They also had taken the time to study the scoring system and realized that it was rank – not time that drove their scores. It didn’t matter if the spread between them and the first team was over an hour. Their pacing was critical to their success. They finished 11th in the Crucible, but they arrived at competitor field fresh, and their leftover energy allowed them to place highly in all the other events.
Lesson #3: Select the right equipment
Dean and Lee spent a lot of time before the event strategizing on how best to plan their equipment choices. They were smart to understand that there is no one size fits all gear plan for competitors. While Dean chose to wear two pairs of very thin socks and carry an extra pair of shoes, Lee chose to bring “…one pair of shoes, no socks, and just keep on trucking.” Dean jokingly added, “Our whole team had two pairs of socks.” Lee who had finished the Leadville 100 with no socks had toughened his feet over a long period of time by running hundreds of miles with no socks. His tough feet were a huge advantage for him over the many competitors spending lots of time taping up blistered toes. However, he noted that he may change his approach next year, since he did get blisters on his heels due to lots of heel strike on the hiking portion of the course.
They also learned that less is more when it comes to clothing. They say they will bring fewer clothes next year and not worry so much about the cold at night. However, Dean says he may bring a larger pack next year as he did not have enough space leftover in his pack for the bricks that Team Endeavor had waiting on them for the long land movements. They also suspect that they might have more bricks to carry next year as the event continues to get even tougher.
Lesson #4: Prepare
“Whether you’re walking on flat ground, on stairs, or in the mountains; you need to learn how to spend a lot of time on your feet” if you are going to be successful in the competition. While Lee was out competing in ultra-marathons, Dean was spending 16-hour days mountaineering out in the woods making his legs “hurt.” This allowed their bodies to be ready for the 36 straight hours of competition. They still had stamina at end of the race and were able to pull out a win on the final 11+mile run. While they felt fresh at the end of this year’s event, they know that they must continue to work harder and become stronger if they have any chance of holding onto their championship title in 2015.
Dean and Lee were impressed by the level of competition and the scale and comprehensiveness of the event. They expect the level of competition next year to be even stronger and the course to be harder. Dean and Lee seem determined to keep improving their athleticism and strength in order to stay on top of the competitive playing field in 2015. In addition, it’s possible that Dean may have his two sons, one a 2- time Endeavor Team Challenge finisher and one a current Navy Seal, competing together against their Dad next year. This would surely up the competitive spirit out on the course!
Lesson #5: Take time to look around
Dean and Lee agreed that the variety of the event coupled with the overwhelming beauty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains made the Endeavor Team Challenge an absolutely unforgettable experience. Lee described the competition as an “awesome 36 hours in the woods” where he “felt like a little kid running around.” He adds, “It’s such an awesome area, and the events are so fun. Don’t forget to look around and enjoy yourself and appreciate everything that’s around. I was constantly forgetting that I was in a race…That was one of the reasons why I felt it went by so quickly.” They added that at moments it was nice to just take moment and enjoy the environment – talented competitors, beautiful terrain, and an unforgettable adventure.
We are grateful to Dean and Lee for taking the time to talk with us. We invite you to join them out on the course for the 2015 Endeavor Team Challenge, Bear Valley, CA, September 12-13, 2015.