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The men spent all night hunting checkpoints in the rain. The Berryman had once again defeated Team Virtus.
Then, Lamb says, the sky started to lighten, the rain eased up, and the map began to make sense. "Just that sun coming up — it gives you hope."
The team strained on and accomplished its goal of finishing the Berryman. The time: 33 hours and 55 minutes. Soon after, Elsenraat called them over. "He stuck his hand out and said, 'Congratulations on winning your division of the 36-hour Berryman,'" Lamb recalls. "I thought he was kidding." They had finished almost eight hours after the second-place two-person male team, but Team Virtus had collected one more checkpoint, allowing the win.
"They were so surprised about it," Elsenraat says. "And I think that's what made it so exciting. Nobody actually thought they were going to win it."
The Berryman remains Team Virtus' only adventure-race division win. And the 2011 Bonk Hard Chill isn't going to change that statistic. When we make it back to the staging area, a volunteer tells me that I've likely strained a rotator cuff. I should see a doctor, he says — after the race. "Don't feel bad," he says. "A couple races ago, I took a header right into a tree."
Lamb looks at the map and divines that we can finish the race on foot, if we're willing to walk eight to 10 miles. As long as we cross the finish line under our own power before 7 p.m., it counts as a completed race. We trudge off into the rain, and Team Virtus is once again in it to finish, not to place.
The night before the race, Team Virtus dines at an Applebee's before a mandatory pre-race meeting that gathers every team. A few other teams, identified by coordinated jackets, are eating in the restaurant, prompting Jenkins, an X-ray technician, to discuss the differences in teams and styles.
There are elite teams whose members are really nice to the mediocre ones, and there are what he and Lamb call PAMs: "poser-ass motherfuckers." These are the least likable adventure racers, the ones who have bought all the best gear but lack the skill, experience and natural ability to compete. "PAMs are like the people who buy it [lots of expensive equipment], then walk around like, 'Did you all see this?'" Jenkins teases, striking a model pose. Thankfully, he says, PAMs generally stay away from adventure races like the Bonk Hard Chill.
Team Virtus doesn't go high-end. Lamb had suggested that I bring a cheap, non-cotton workout shirt from Target, whatever running shoes I had, workout pants, a jacket, trail mix and Snickers bars — all in keeping with a racing-on-a-shoestring ideology. Jenkins and Lamb have some decent gear, but they work under tight budgets and don't have the sharp matching outfits that the best teams favor. The only uniform Team Virtus requires is facial hair, which I was commanded to grow before showing up for the race.
At the pre-race meeting at an Osage Beach, Missouri, church, all the teams are in one room to learn the ground rules. Jason and Laura Elsenraat clearly relish this time.
Racers say it's this moment — when the curtain drops and the course is revealed — that makes adventure racing so exhilarating. The 150 people in the church know only to train for high mileage, but without knowing the distance of each race stage. "If we knew ahead of time, it would just be a regular triathlon," Lamb says before the meeting.
Jason Elsenraat marvels at the size of the field and asks if there are any first-time racers there. About a half-dozen people hesitantly raise their hands, and the veterans applaud.