There’s something about adventure racing. Something about the mud and the bugs, the slippery scree slopes and the steep descents, the sleep deprivation and an occasional sip of water siphoned from a puddle thick with cow pies, something about all this that makes it oddly addicting.
Just ask Chelsea Luttrall, a 29-year-old Colorado Springs woman who is so obsessed with adventure racing that she has started a company with her husband, James, to produce races in the area.
Luttrall was a competitive kayaker in high school, and when she and James lived in east Texas, they discovered a mutual passion for mountain biking. “When I saw adventure racing that involved both of those sports along with others, I decided 'that’s what I want to do,'” Chelsea says. “I was addicted.”
The Luttrall’s moved to Colorado Springs, and started presenting local races in 2011. This spring, their new company, Journey Racing, sponsored its first race. Journey has its own racing team with a star-studded roster that includes Danelle Ballengee, a four-time winner of the Pikes Peak Marathon, and other experienced racers from Utah and Colorado. When she talks about her recent victories – of which there are many, including the hard-core Cowboy Tough in Wyoming – she uses words like “amazing” and “cool” and “life-changing.”
When Luttrall isn’t racing, she is a prosthetist/orthotist, designing and fitting devices such as artificial limbs. Perhaps her profession and passion have some similarities. Chelsea talks about how she has learned to experience life as fully as possible, ever since she had extensive back surgery when she was in fifth grade. “I had to relearn to walk, and then in college, I had problems again, and I was told to get a desk job and ‘live with it.’ Her response: “I thought, ‘well, I’m not paralyzed yet, so I’ll try and do stuff.’ I think that helped me realize my passion for getting out and experiencing life. That’s why I enjoy exploring. It’s seeing what’s beyond the horizon.”
When Luttrall and teammate Julian Tonsmeire took on the Cowboy Tough adventure race, considered by many one of the toughest events in the country, they were challenged by bone-rattling bike trails, brutally hot terrain and little sleep (with a few hallucinations involving cows in boats).
"Adventure racing is about more than just being fast," Chelsea says. “It’s about being adaptable, seeing problems and then solving them, and working together.” In other words, in adventure races, teams face off against each other, and the best teams are those that take advantage of each racer’s strengths.
RR: What makes a great AR team?
Luttrall: You have to have good team skills. One person can have a bad racing day, and if the rest of the team sees that, you can still win. You can only go as fast as the slowest member, so it all comes down to overcoming those down times.
RR: What makes you a good adventure racer?
Luttrall: I have a very big imagination. I always played explorer as a kid. I guess if I ever have a low time, I look around, and say to myself, ‘I can’t believe I’m here.’ That picks me up pretty quick.
RR: What’s the best way to get started in adventure racing?
Luttrall: Go out and play. Ride a favorite loop trail on your bike, then park it and run the loop. You’ll look at it differently. Go exploring and take a map. Adventure racing doesn’t allow the use of GPS, so you have to know how to navigate with a compass and a map. And train with your pack on.
RR: What are the most challenging parts of an adventure race?
Luttrall: Learning when to stop and sleep. Sleep deprivation can be serious. I have learned I need about an hour of sleep per 24 hours of racing. That’s sleep, or at least rest. Eating and drinking can also be challenging.
RR: Adventure races can be long. How do you get calories and stay hydrated?
Luttrall: You just can’t carry enough water, so you have to have a water filter or some kind of water purification tablets. In the Cowboy Tough race, we had to filter water that had cow pies in it. You have to eat, too, even though it’s tough. Try and eat every hour. After about 18 hours of racing, you need calories. I like Oreos, fruit cups. Croissants are wonderful if you can get them.
RR: Where do you like to train in the Colorado Springs region?
Luttrall: We live near Bear Creek Regional Park, which leads to miles and miles of trails in the (Pike) national forest. I like to leave my house on my bike and just head into the woods.