How I wish I could have done Eco-Challenge! It made the sport of adventure racing sky-rocket. Mark Burnett was brilliant in bringing you stories that touched you and inspired you to get off the couch.
Eco-Challenge is why myself, and many others, started racing.
Mark grew up in the UK and served in the Parachute Regiment in Northern Ireland and the Falklands War. He moved to the US in 1982 and held a variety of jobs for the next 10 years. He was even a nanny.
Mark saw an article in the LA Times about Gerald Fusils' Raid Gualoises in Costa Rica. He got together a team and raced it twice. Though they didn't fair well, Burnett decided to bring an expedition race to the US.
A few years later when Burnett wanted to go international he purchased the rights of the Raid from Fusil.
Originally there were 5 team members, later reduced to 4, who would swim, climb, mountain bike, kayak, horseback ride, mountaineer, trek and canoe over the course. Races were typically 300 mile courses through jungles or rugged terrain.
In 1994, Utah hosted the first Eco-Challenge. Cable TV broadcast these events and the Utah race was a 45 minute film on MTV.
In 1995, the Maine Eco Challenge was broadcast as part of the X-Games on ESPN.
In 1996, Eco-Challenge went to the Discovery channel. The 1996 British Columbia segment won an Emmy Award.
In 2000, Burnett signed a 3 year contract with the USA Network. It was nominated for a prime-time Emmy. After Fiji 2002, USA did not renew.
You can find the 1996-2001 races on VHS. Utah, Main and Fiji were released overseas, but not in the US.
Sadly Eco-Challenge never returned. Though adventure racers have asked, Mark said he is too busy and would only return with his first crew.
With the success he has had with Survivor and reality TV, it doesn't look good for the return of Eco-Challenge.
BILL LOVELACE: ECO-CHALLENGE RACER
Bill (pictured in center) got started in Eco-Challenge on a dare of sorts. He saw an ad that said, Eco-Challenge eats Ironmen for breakfast.
As a world class Ironman athlete Bill couldn't resist. In Bill's own words, How could I not race.
Bill Lovelace answers all kinds of adventure racing questions right here. Learn about how to eat during a race, about obscure events and now to train.
You can access other tips from Bill including mountain biking tips, expeditions training tips, trekking tips and more at the adventure racing
In a longer race how do you "stomach" literally all the eating you must do?
You have to identify what foods are easily digested by you...each of us is different in our intake needs and how we deal with the food...
For us, the key to drinking and eating is to have an absolute time table wherein you take a drink every 15 minutes when it's hot and eat something, small bites, every half hour to an hour...
It's like topping off your fuel tank in your car...
Never wait to be thirsty or hungry....Digestion is the key, and you need to identify what does and does not work for you.
How far do you skate?
Note Bill does a lot of skating in addition to his other training. Skating used to be popular in races, but it is not as much so now a days.
I skate marathons every now and then...most of my blading is after a long hard ride so when my team mates and I are done, our legs are literally shaking with fatigue.
It is rare that you can see the ultimate point so you plot courses to get to know points you can find on the map and get to your goal bit by bit.
Pace counting won't help much when the distance are that great. One large landmark to the next maybe five miles apart. You look for river crossings, peaks, ravines and so on.
On a bike, it is usually not too tough to navigate because you can count the number of trail crossings.
On foot, when you are going up and down mountains and valleys, you have to look for definable features.
There is often very little you can do to 'know' you are at the right creek. In Eco-Challenge Fiji, it would rain and creeks that are not on the map pop up because of the recent rain. The foliage was so thick you had no landmarks.
Your only option, besides incredible luck, is to know the bearing which you should be following and when your selected creek starts veering to another direction for a while, backtrack to where you were last on the bearing course and then literally bush whack on your bearing. At some point you will run into the correct creek or the right mountain or road. That piece is where the bloodhound in you has to come out.
In the jungles of Eco-Challenge Fiji is was like navigating in the dark.
Speed is often misunderstood....some teams run a lot and then rest a lot...better to hit the trails and average 4 to 5 mph and keep going all day and night than run and then recover....
We did many, many 24 to 48 hours treks in training...AND don't forget how much paddling you will be doing....expedition races always have BIG water sections.
In Maine, as an example, in the first leg of the race, we paddled a canoe for 21 hours straight (we were in 4th place) and 36 hours with a short break in the middle on the last leg...we paddled from Martha's Vineyard to Rhode Island in open ocean.