Train to Win: 2013 ETC Champions on Teamwork, Strategy, and Training

We sat down with the 2013 Endeavor Team Challenge winners, Geoff Rapoport and Jared Janowiak, to learn about their training, gear, mindset, and race-day strategies, and also what they’re doing differently for this year and why.

ETC: What were your goals coming into the 2013 Endeavor Team Challenge?

JJ: It’s hard to set goals for a new event. We had a sense of what would be required to complete the event, but we had no idea what the competition would look like, so we were committed to finishing and to see what was possible beyond that as the weekend developed.

Rapoport (left) and Janowiak (right) during the Obstacle Course section of Competitor Field.
Rapoport (left) and Janowiak (right) during the Obstacle Course section of Competitor Field.

GR: Jared was a groomsman in my wedding earlier this year, and we conceived the event as a sort of mini-bachelor party, so we were looking for all the usual stuff: travel to a new destination, stay up all night, engage in some sort of hijinks that creates the perception of serious danger. At least once during the weekend, someone should say, “I think I’m going to vomit.” Checking all those items off the list would have been a success! We made decision to race for the win almost as a joke. We were only a few miles into the first event (the Crucible Foot March), which we’d started conservatively. We started to pick off teams that had started too fast, and soon were on the leaders heels, so I said, “It’s my bachelor party! F&*^ it. Let’s race!”

ETC: That’s an unorthodox bachelor party! What were the secrets to your success?

JJ: A big part of this event is having a partner who knows how to coax out your best performance. The lesser part of this is someone who can drive you to push harder when you’re cold, tired, malnourished, and wishing you’d volunteered to help run the event instead of competing. I bet most teams did fine at this. The more important part is knowing when to throttle back. Every team has some disparity in skills and strength. With two human beings, it’s inevitable. Geoff and I have been close friends, teammates, and training partners at various times over the last decade. I’ve seen him bawling over ugly breakups, and he did more for me than I could really ask when I broke both my arms mountain biking.

GR: I’m not sure I’d use the word “bawling,” but okay.

JJ: The upshot of this is that both of us can, and did, say over the course of the race, “I’m redlined. I need to power back.” The lack of ego in the relationship and an eye for how bad the other is suffering let us keep the pressure on, without pushing into the red. If you kill your teammate on the Foot March, they don’t let you start the Competitor Field!

ETC: Teamwork makes the dream work! What was your race-day strategy?

GR: Strategy makes it sound more planned than it really was, but we took two big risks that worked out for us.  We decided we were going to be the first team over the line on the Crucible Foot March, which was arguably very stupid and required running most of the distance—with our loaded packs—but we made it, and our legs weren’t totally shredded for the following day’s run. The second was going the opposite direction of most teams at the start of the Night Navigation Challenge.  We calculated that we could pick up a larger number of checkpoints going in that direction and still get back in time for the cutoff. To be honest, this was less strategy and more moxie. I think most teams were pretty exhausted by this point, and just wanted to hit the required number of checkpoints and get some sleep.

JJ: One skills pointer on the night navigation: The training videos on the website teach a step counting method for land navigation. That’s a great skill in theory, but much of the night navigation exercise is on trail, and you’re not going to want to count eight thousand steps at 2AM. Learn what walking at various speeds feels like (“this is a 20 minute mile,” “this is a 15 minute mile,” “this is a 12 minute mile”) so you can use your watch to know how far you’ve gone.

ETC: That’s a great pointer.  Any other practical tips?

GR: You really need good map reading skills. On the final run, the leading team took a wrong turn and had to backtrack by a mile or more. Had they stayed on course, they would have finished the run second instead of fifth and won the event overall. It’s not how they wanted to lose, or how we wanted to win, but it’s part of the competition.

ETC: That’s helpful. What did you guys do for training?

GR: My training wasn’t tuned for the ETC, but happened to dovetail nicely with the fitness I’d need. I worked out at a CrossFit gym twice a week, ran twice a week, and walked a few miles each day to and from work. The walking seems like a silly addition, because it’s so low intensity, but the mileage adds up. I was training for a marathon early in the summer, which left me with some nice residual fitness going into the ETC.

JJ: I was pretty busy with a young baby at home, so Geoff was definitely stronger, but I managed to bring decent running fitness to the table and a lot of wilderness experience from mountaineering and climbing.

GR: Right. I should note that I have basically no outdoor skills. I can tie my own shoes, but that’s where my knot tying knowledge ends. We made it work, but it would have been nice if I could have been more helpful on the teamwork reaction course.

When we saw the competition at the hotel on the morning of the event, we were intimidated. There were some huge, super fit-looking dudes. Jared and I have skinny, runner/bike-racer physiques. I like to joke that we were the only competitors that couldn’t convincingly lift the trophy overhead, but the event doesn’t take a lot of strength for most male competitors. It requires moderate strength employed continuously for a day and a half.

Janowiak and Rapoport during the 2013 Awards Ceremony. Despite their concern, they managed to lift the trophy above their heads.
Janowiak and Rapoport during the 2013 Awards Ceremony. Despite their concern, they managed to lift the trophy above their heads.

ETC: So would your advice to other competitors be to focus more on running?

GR: Everyone should focus on their weaknesses. If you can’t run 10 miles, you’re wasting your time in the gym. Go run. If you’re an elite marathon runner, you will need to build some upper-body strength. We could have used more upper-body strength. On the pure strength component of the battle drill, we came in last place among the finishing teams. That can’t happen again, and we will be much more keenly focused on this year’s battle drill in our training leading up to the 2014 edition.

ETC: Do you have any gear advice for first time racers?

JJ: I come from a mountaineering background, where reducing weight is elevated to a fetish. There were a lot of teams out there last year with combat boots and enough gear for a week in the arctic. They looked like bad-asses. Personally, I wouldn’t want to hump that much gear around for 40 miles. We both wore trail running shoes and brought almost nothing that wasn’t on the minimum required gear list.

ETC: How are you feeling about 2014?

GR: Scared! 2013 was great, because we came in with no expectations. This time we come to the race with the expectation that we’re here to win, but the field will be larger, the competitors will be stronger, and they won’t make the same mistakes they made last year. It’s going to be really, really hard.