Adversity Classes from the “hardest race on the earth”
Dark sat on the Fijian rainforest. In the mud and rain, Jason Magness and his teammates came across a bamboo frame. They draped a tarp and made camp for the night. For the past few hours, the group had been climbing through a dense, steep valley that they believed would take them to the base of the Vuwa Falls – a tiered, thousand foot long cascade that they had to ascend – only to find that they had made navigational errors and had just done so spent the day traversing the wrong valley.
Magness, Daniel Staudigel, Melissa Coombes and Stephen Thompson from Team Bend Racing took part in the Eco-Challenge 2019 in Fiji, an 11-day 400-mile adventure race that aired on Amazon Prime Video in August 2020 as the toughest race in the world has been. Team Bend started the multidisciplinary event and sprinted to the top in their outrigger canoe. While trekking on the island of Ovalau, Staudigel succumbed to a severe heat illness and could hardly move on his own. Within 14 hours of the start, Bend Racing slipped from first to almost last position, unsure about Staudigel’s health (see picture below) or whether they would have the opportunity to reach the finish.
Tara Kerzhner / Amazon
Five days and nearly 280 miles later, when he suffered sleep deprivation and ailment through trekking, white water rafting, and mountain biking in the South Pacific region, Staudigel’s health improved and Bend Racing recovered in a solemn mood. That was until they got lost in a valley somewhere in the center of the Fijian island of Viti Levu. Inevitably tired, confused and with mounting frustration, the team found their race in danger again.
The spoiler: Magness and Company reached Vuwa Falls and finally the best result of all American teams in seven and a half days and in 14th place.
Christian Pondella / Amazon
Team Bend Racing was far from the only group that ran into problems. Survival situations in the wild are a matter of course during the Eco-Challenge. But when you have an event where a third of the 66 capable teams wouldn’t even finish, you have to wonder what skills are involved in finishing the race beyond fitness and orienteering.
Magness cites skills like finding your way emotionally, psychologically, and with the people around you. He and his twin brother (and original climbing partner) Andrew have set themselves the goal of seeing the Eco-Challenge together on TV first. “My brother and I really got into climbing and mountaineering and did some big climbs and first ascents into our 20s,” says Magness. “I remember watching the Eco-Challenge on TV. In some of these early versions, they showed much more division and discomfort among the teams. We watched and wondered why they were fighting? We knew enough from our climbing expeditions that fighting is the surest way to mislead all of your plans. You are trying to survive with these people. “
Not getting lost off a Fijian mountainside may seem a long way from the daily trials of most, but Magness, who has been competing in adventure races since 2003, sees adversity, whether in the wilderness or at home, on the same map. The Soft Skills Team Bend Racing has been continuously tested in Fiji. Here Magness gives insights into how they led the team to carry out the Eco-Challenge.
Poby / Amazon
Be honest with yourself and those around you
“We have venting sessions. You have to work so that people’s feelings are valid. Whether the basis behind this is right or wrong is another conversation. But the feelings themselves are valid. Once we feel heard on that note, it is easier not to just keep fighting and move to a dark place. It takes the wind out of the sails of that negative emotion. Things are most dangerous when you resist them. “Magness, who founded Bend Racing with his wife and often teammate Chelsey Magness, values this honesty within the team, which plays an important role in a larger philosophy both in the sport and in general that he cannot emphasize enough:” You have value relationships. “
Give discomfort a chance
“We have the rule that each of us can say at any time, ‘I’m done with this, I want to go home. ‘There is no judgment,’ says Magness, understanding in these races that the race of the entire group is over if a team member is eliminated. “But it comes with one caveat. Once you’ve made up your mind, we’ll continue for 24 hours. When that time is up, see if you still feel this way. “
Any period of time acts as a structured mechanism that allows someone to go through a process with their circumstances. A team member introduces the clause in almost every event, but has yet to throw in the towel and know if it’s ever the right call. “Once you become comfortable with discomfort, open up your options. Often we react too early and deprive ourselves of the opportunity to grow and adapt. “
Krystle Wright / Amazon
Don’t overlook the power of calm
Sleep is very important on a 24-hour racetrack. Teams only sleep a few times for a limited amount of time and operate largely without sleep for most of the 400 mile event. Magness argues that sometimes resting is the best thing you can do for yourself, but it’s often overlooked. When you’re exhausted or having trouble resolving an argument, sometimes your best option is to follow an old piece of advice: sleep on it and see where you are afterwards. This is exactly what Bend Racing decided on the best course of action to take in difficult times when searching for Vuwa Falls. “It’s one of the best reset buttons out there and not enough teams know when to use it. It didn’t work in our favor for anything else, except that we had to mentally reset ourselves. “
Stay focused on the positive – and celebrate even small successes
“You have to see that you are successful. It becomes that driving mental picture and you don’t even need to know how it is going to happen, but you have this overall picture of success. We set these little tiny goals for ourselves to achieve success and we are very aware of this in our race when we don’t really know if we can go ahead.
When Dan was exhausted from heat, we pulled him up a mountain for three hours, which most teams took half an hour. The last thing we said before he went to bed was that he succeeded. The next morning was a huge hit for Dan, if he could have a drink of water, that was it. Whatever the task ahead of you, you accomplished the last 10 things you did. And so will the next task.
As soon as you get out, when things get tough, you set neurological patterns. Fortunately, our pattern is to find our way through anything because that has always happened. Once you have this as the standard, you are all but unstoppable. Because that is the honest expectation that you will find a way to end every business you started. “
Write your own epic
Growing up, Magness and his brother Andrew had two permanent outlets: the natural world and the fantasy world of Dungeons & Dragons. The game played at a table seems far from the scaling of mountains, but Magness sees them as complement and creativity in difficult circumstances. “The imagination is a huge tool. In every epic story there are heroes who overcome overwhelming odds. When we race, that’s how we see it. Like we’re on a quest and become our own legend. All things that go wrong become part of our history and not guilt or fear. If we survive something, I make these things bigger than the life in my head because it’s fun. These are the moments that you want to impress on your soul as a person. “Says Magness. “It strengthens. You can choose your own story. You can walk over a mountain or around a mountain, but whatever the result, you keep moving forward. “
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