East Tennessee has the Knoxville Marathon, mud runs, a half- and full-trail marathon in the Urban Wilderness, a handful of endurance bike races, triathlons, and even the Barkley Marathons—a torturous three-day mountain scramble/ultra-endurance trail event that's widely regarded as one of the hardest races anywhere in the world. But there's never been anything quite like the Checkpoint Tracker Adventure Racing Championship scheduled for this weekend.
More than 100 of the fittest and fiercest long-distance athletes from around the world will descend on Knoxville for a 30-hour, 100-mile self-propelled journey through Knox and Sevier counties in the fourth Checkpoint Tracker national championship, running, hiking, biking, and paddling across the area's toughest terrain all day on Friday and into Saturday afternoon.
Adventure racing is the latest form of popular endurance masochism; now that marathons are fund-raising parties and Chattanooga has an Ironman triathlon scheduled for 2014, distance freaks have turned to the hills and waterways. Adventure racing combines at least two established endurance sports—running, hiking, cycling, paddling, or even climbing—with navigation or orienteering, pitting teams of two to four people (sometimes with mixed genders) against each other for anywhere from a few hours to 10 days or more. Competitors travel together as a team from predetermined checkpoint to checkpoint; the team that's hit the most correct checkpoints in time wins.
On Friday morning at 8 a.m., the racing teams will meet at the Outdoor Knoxville Adventure Center at Volunteer Landing. They'll be transported by bus to the Windrock Park, a 72,000-acre ATV park near Oliver Springs.
"When they get there, they're going to start the race, mountain biking and orienteering," says race producer Paul Angell, a former adventurer racer. "They're going to spend most of Friday doing that, into Friday night."
Then it's a bike ride of approximately 25 miles to Concord Park in Farragut. From there, it's a 27-mile kayak trip up the Tennessee River, back to the Adventure Center.
"They're going to arrive at Outdoor Knoxville on the river, upstream, in the dark," Angell says. "It'll probably rain and be cold, if we're lucky. Listen, I produce the events, I don't race them. I'm not stupid."
The final six-hour stretch of the race takes place on foot in the Urban Wilderness. That coincides exactly with the Tennessee Adventure Challenge, a novice sprint race for less-experienced adventurers. (The entrance fee is $75; you may still be able to sign up at tnadventurechallenge.com.) All the competitors from both races will finish at 4 p.m. at the Krutch Park Extension on Gay Street—just in time for the Knoxville Zombie Walk on Market Square, which starts at 3:30 p.m. Angell predicts that it might be hard to tell the zombies from the adventure racers by then.
"The last part of the adventure race may be to navigate the maelstrom and make it to the finish," he says.