Full-day AXS Summit adventure race returns to Frisco July 25 | SummitDaily.com

Full-day AXS Summit adventure race returns to Frisco July 25

A team in the 2014 AXS Summit race pedal through Frisco during the mountain bike leg. The race returns to Frisco on July 25.
Special to the Daily |

AXS Summit race 2015

What: A single-day adventure race with trail running, kayaking, mountain biking and orienteering, held on Lake Dillon and the trails around Frisco

When: Saturday, July 25 at 8:30 a.m.

Where: Frisco Adventure Park, 621 Recreation Way in Frisco

Cost: $195 (full day), $160 (duathlon), $115 (sprint)

Online registration closes before midnight on July 24. On-site registration is only available on a limited basis. Most competitors finish the full-day adventure and duathlon courses in 6-10 hours. The sprint lasts 3-6 hours. For more information or to register, see http://www.axsracing.com/summit.

Take it from Jenny Vitale: If you start an adventure race on the wrong course, you’ll never get back on track.

Late on July 23, she was making the 12-hour drive from her hometown of Phoenix to her high-alpine hometown of Frisco for AXS Summit, an adventure race held on the spiderwebbed trails of the Frisco Peninsula.

She’s made the journey every July for the past six or seven years (a 12-hour drive with decent traffic), and while it’s easy to follow a paved interstate for hours upon hours, she knows it’s just as easy to get lost in the woods without navigational know-how.

See, the AXS Summit race isn’t a typical triathlon. It’s not even a triathlon, really, at least not by definition. It’s a tried-and-true adventure race, a full-day event with biking, running, paddling and, in a devious departure from the norm, orienteering across more than 10 miles of trail and Jeep road.

The two navigating sections — a 4 to 5 mile mountain bike leg and 5- to 8-mile trail-running leg — come near the end of the race, but when tacked onto nearly 40 miles of kayaking and biking earlier in the day, the race easily surpasses the three-hour threshold of even the nastiest off-road triathlons. Even the fastest racers cross the finish line after 6 to 7 hours.

But, as Vitale knows full well, if a racer gets turned around while navigating from checkpoint to checkpoint, the day can stretch into the 10- to 12-hour range.

“You have to orienteer yourself correctly from the start,” says Vitale, a 42-year-old who is racing solo this weekend. “I shoot to finish, to be perfectly honest. These races take everything out of you. You learn as you do these that you don’t spring out of the gate because you will bonk right away, and you have to know what you’re doing with a map and compass.”

Over the lake and through the woods

Now in its 15th year as a series and 10th year in Summit, the AXS race is the brainchild of Durango-based Gravity Play Sports. Founder and race director Will Newcomer is a veteran in the endurance-racing world, and the Frisco event on July 25 is Summit’s only true adventure race of the summer. It’s paired with four additional races across the Western U.S., including Santa Fe on Aug. 15, Glenwood Springs on Sept. 12 and the finale in Moab on Oct. 10.

“Each of our events has its own unique characteristics, and Summit County is truly one of the more scenic mountain venues we have,” Newcomer says. “This race in particular comes with a lot more orienteering, so there’s more strategy for how to reach your checkpoints. That’s something a lot of participants like.”

Like its dumbed-down cousin of obstacle racing — think the Spartan Race and Tough Mudder — adventure racing is more about the journey than coming in first. The Summit race is split into three categories, each open to teams and solo racers: a duathlon with no kayak leg; a sprint race with shorter running and biking sections; and the full-adventure race, which covers roughly 50 miles during eight to 12 hours of racing.

Each year, Newcomer and his crew create a slightly different course to keep faithful racers like Vitale on their toes. This year’s race begins with an eight to 10 mile paddle on Lake Dillon. It sounds easy on paper, but veteran competitors like Kevin Minard of Summit Cove are wary of draining their arms and shoulders early in the day.

“I fully expect to come out behind some of those very strong paddlers,” says Minard, a 46-year-old who is also racing solo. “But I’m a very competitive person, just like most people up here, so I like pushing myself. I just feel more competitive when I’m out there solo.”

Then again, Vitale looks forward to the kayak section for the exact same reason. As a lowlander who simply loves to paddle — “I’m strong in the upper body, always have been,” she says — it gives her an advantage over hardcore mountain bikers like Minard, the sort who live, work and play at altitude.

“There’s no way to train for it, really, especially when you don’t have time to come to Colorado one or two weeks before the race,” Vitale says. “My lungs give out way before my legs give out. You just have to keep going and put one foot in front of the other, just try not to cry when somebody passes.”

Lost on the course

Orienteering is the true equalizer in an adventure race. Minard relies on his knowledge of the Frisco trail system, while Vitale learned to navigate from an old teammate, a Marine who taught her tricks like how to adjust for magnetic declination, the variation that slightly separates true north from magnetic north.

For Sara Boyer, a 43-year-old Denver resident who is racing with a team of four, groups like the Rocky Mountain Orienteering Club have been a godsend. She and the crew, including her husband, are training for the eight-day Primal Quest expedition race at Lake Tahoe in August. And like AXS Summit, the race requires solid navigational skills.

“You’re not just going against the clock,” Boyer says. “You’re also going against the other teams, seeing what kind of skills they have. I’m not the fastest runner or the best biker, so you can just hope to do better with the navigating to get ahead. It’s a challenge, but it’s also part of the excitement.”

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