Seeking Adventure

Some call it a sport for “athletic nerds.”

Adventure racing tests competitors’ minds, bodies and emotions, forcing them to run, mountain bike and canoe through a forest or a city using a compass and map to find their way.

Saturday’s Baton Rouge Urban Adventure Race, a stop on the Gulf Coast Adventure Racing series, will send teams of men and women through LSU and downtown Baton Rouge in a four-hour race that is, quite literally, the hottest competition of the year.

“It’s in short sections, and you just need to get through each section,” said Doug Cousineau, an adventure racer who has competed worldwide. “When you get done, it looks like a daunting task, but you did it one piece at a time.”

Some racers are elite athletes out to stomp the competition. Others are weekend warriors looking for a challenge. And then there’s those buddies hoping to bond over physical exertion.

Here’s a closer look at some of the racers.

The elite racer

Julie Standing, 39, Lake Charles

In nonstop “expedition” races that last up to eight days, Standing has seen seasoned adventure racers crack under the strain of navigating through the wilderness by bike, foot and canoe.

“You’ll find grown men crying for no reason,” she said of the long-distance races, where competitors often sleep while hiking. “It just breaks you down.”

A personal trainer and member of the Massey’s Outfitters Adventure Racing team, Standing has raced all over the United States and in Australia over the past 15 years. She’s fast at all three aspects of racing — mountain biking, running and paddling — and doesn’t mind saying so.

In her career, Standing has broken multiple bones and been to the emergency room to have a stick removed from her nose.

“It’s hard core,” she said. “There aren’t that many girls who are into it. I like the challenge of the rough terrain and the fighting the fatigue and sleep. I don’t know why I think that’s fun.”

Her Massey’s team wins the majority of Louisiana races, said David Poleto, the series organizer. On Saturday, they expect to win.

“We’re out looking for blood,” Standing said. “When we’re at the starting line, it’s all out.”

Toughest race: “It’s got to be one of the (west) Texas races because that terrain is just brutal. There’s cactus and sharp rock.”

Steady and experienced

Tommy Bell, 51, New Iberia

At his age, Bell knows he can’t outrun his competition. Yet his team — Team ALLINALLOUT — consistently beats much younger racers.

“We’re up against some 21-year-olds who can smoke us on the run,” he said, “but I guarantee you we always have the fastest canoe time.”

Made up of three former competitive canoeists scattered across Louisiana and Mississippi, Bell’s team of friends reunites a few times a year to race.

“We take it kind of seriously, but it’s a fun thing for us,” said Bell, who works in electrical construction. “It’s a recreational thing. We drink a few beers after and get to visit.”

Experience and top-notch navigation skills put them ahead of the younger teams. Bell, an Eagle Scout, relies on his compass and map reading expertise.

“I’m the one putting the brakes on all the time saying, hold on we’ve got to know which direction we’re going,” Bell said. “Navigation is the key.”

Toughest race: The Bogue Chitto Adventure Race in Franklinton.

“There are some horseback trails that are really hilly,” Bell said. “It was tough on the mountain biking and tough on the running for guys who are used to being on the flat ground all the time.”

The adventure seeker

Cliff Johnson, 53, Baton Rouge

From boxing to skydiving to running off-road marathons, Johnson is always searching for his next thrill.

A decade ago, he found adventure racing and “conned” his best friend into competing. They found a new addiction.

“If you want some excitement, you want something different, you want something that’s going to challenge you a little bit more, this is it,” he said.

An environmental consultant who travels across the state, Johnson makes time for running and cycling whenever possible.

Adventure racing tests him more than plain foot races ever did, he said.

“This is way beyond running,” he said. “You have to be able to make snap decisions on the fly, most of the time when you’re out of breath.”

Toughest race: “The Baton Rouge Urban race is one of the most difficult races we’ve had. It’s just extremely hot. You get out there on the pavement downtown and there’s no breeze. You’ll find excellent teams that are just about walking.”