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He goes through the rules: Helmets are required for biking; flotation vests are required for canoeing; racers must stay in the ditch for the part of the course that runs parallel to a highway. Breaking the rules results in a three-hour time penalty. One infraction could finish a team's day.
Finally, Elsenraat, a man who smiles with unnerving force, calls the teams to the front of the room to pick up maps and clue sheets with Universal Transverse Mercator coordinates. The room buzzes like a hive.
Lamb and Jenkins get the map, and we head back to a rented state-park cabin in the woods after a quick stop at Hy-Vee to load up the Virtus Van (a silver-gray minivan) with cases of Fat Tire, Woodchuck cider and other supplies. The unpowered cabin captures the intimate but not isolated feel of a backyard treehouse, even though it's only about 100 feet downhill from the parking area and restrooms, and lights from lakefront condo developments a quarter-mile away shine through the trees.
Inside the cabin, Jenkins and Lamb strap on headlamps, spread the map on a wooden table and begin plotting the checkpoints. They look like little boys playing general, planning an invasion.
Jenkins reads from the clue sheet: "542 ... 4212 ... 8420. And the clue is 'road junction.'"
"Perfect, that's right where I have it," Lamb replies, inking a dot onto the map with a Sharpie. Other than actually spotting the checkpoints during the race, plotting is the most important part. If Team Virtus improperly maps them, the race will be hopeless. Each set of coordinates shows where one of the 30 checkpoints is, and each one has a specific hole punch that must be applied to the team's passport. The goal of the race is to get as many as possible in the shortest time. Checkpoints outweigh time, so teams that take longer but hit more of them finish ahead of faster teams with fewer holes in their passports.
Over the next 40 minutes, the teammates piece together the course like a connect-the-dots puzzle. The picture they reveal is of the hazard and pain to come the next day.
It's not a defect," Megan Harrity, counseling and sport psychologist at the University of Kansas, says about the pain tolerance of endurance athletes. Their brains might be different from those people who would rather run three miles than, say, meet their friends for happy hour. New or pleasurable experiences, she explains, release dopamine, which makes us feel really good.
"Some of the studies have shown that people who are higher on the sensation-seeking scale will have potentially more receptors for dopamine in their brain," she says, meaning that they have an easier time doing extreme sports. She adds that some athletes are just skilled at dissociation, able to turn their minds away from pain by singing a song in their head or focusing on something else.
Before the race, I asked Jenkins what he thought about instead of his own discomfort. "Boobs," he said. But there are other motivational mirages. Besides breasts, Jenkins dreams of baked potatoes. In a Bonk Hard tradition, organizers pack a cooler with baked potatoes wrapped in foil. He talks about them with respect, like they're steaming, silver gods.
It's raining harder, and we're about two hours into our walk toward the finish line, which Lamb now admits isn't 10 miles from the boat-to-bike interchange but 13. After the canoe stage, after biking over wet roads, after the walking we've already done, we're saturated. Water has penetrated our first layer of clothing, our second and third layers, and hats and gloves. Dryness is a distant memory.