If you’re looking for a teammate for an outdoor adventure, Shoestring Warrior Joann may be able to help you! Joann is no stranger to teamwork; she has spent many years navigating and traversing across land and sea by foot, bike, kayak, and raft while competing in adventure races. Learn some tips from her about how to be a good teammate and what it takes to work together to reach a common goal (in her case, the finish line).
Never heard of an adventure race?
Keep reading to learn more about adventure racing and how it led Joann to compete in a 10-day race in Vietnam!
Shoestring Warrior: Joann Grether
Retired Elementary School Principal
What are your passions outside of work?
Keeping fit, traveling, volunteer work
Tell us about yourself!
I come from a large family and was raised in Northern California. Once I graduated college and earned my teaching credential, I moved to Modesto, CA, where I met a handful of interesting and adventuresome people, most of whom were in the local running club. It was with them that I learned what I could accomplish if I put my mind to it. I began to run ultramarathons and to participate in endurance events on the bike. At some point in time these same friends asked me to join them for a short adventure race. I started with a short race that included running, cycling and some specific challenges like climbing walls and carrying the 3rd teammate on a pole through knee-deep water, that sort of thing. We placed well in our age division and then, of course, we were hooked!
What is an adventure race?
An adventure race is a multi-sport race where teams must travel together, find their way using maps, and complete various aspects of the race such as paddling, cycling, climbing or rappelling, and of course foot travel. Most races require that each team has a female team member.
Teams must figure out the course and travel as quickly as they are able, all the while staying together and helping each other along.
These events can be a few hours long or a few days long. The longest race I participated in took us 10 days to finish and was held in Vietnam.
How did you train for races?
Training for these events generally included lots of basic fitness. Since I was a runner first, that is where the bulk of my training took place. But we also got together as a group (with our teammates or other folks who were simply willing to train with us) and paddled on the river, rode our bikes for hours, or even practiced in the swimming pool trying to do rolls in the kayak. As it turns out, just being fit and strong helps in many of the events that a race may include.
What was the most challenging aspect of working as a team to traverse land and water over a multi-day race?
For me, I was most challenged to keep up and to be an asset to the entire team. I was clearly not navigator material! But I could generally hold my own, keep up, and keep myself fed, hydrated and strong. I never had great speed or skill, but I had decent endurance and the will to forge on. And I rarely had feet/blister problems, which although they seem minor, can bring an entire team to a stop.
What is one of the most valuable skills to have as an adventure racer?
I think the greatest skill needed for this type of event is the notion that giving up is not an option. Frankly, there are hundreds of places in the race where one could drop out, get warm and dry and just watch others suffer!
But as a team, we just didn’t give up.
Finishing is always better than a Did Not Finish (DNF).
What’s your most memorable race and why has it left such an impact on you?
My most memorable race was the Raid Gauloise that was held in Vietnam in 2002. This race format was 5 person co-ed teams. We had to get all of us and a ton of gear to Vietnam from our homes in California. We also had to have 2 crew people go with us, so finding 2 people that could leave their families and jobs for 2 weeks wasn’t easy. The organization was time-consuming and detailed. At the time I had a 10-year-old son at home as well. Once we got to Viet Nam, we had to get ready for a race in a country that we had virtually no experience with and none of us spoke the language. On top of that, 10 days of non-stop racing was a huge stretch for all of us. Since it was in Vietnam, we spent a lot of time on the water (in kayaks, rafts, and inflatables of some sort) as well as foot travel, cycling, rope work and whatever else they could throw at us. At times it was raining so hard we could not see the trail in front of us.
But the coolest part of all was the people of Vietnam.
We were often offered food, or a dry place to rest or sleep. In general we were treated like welcomed guests. It was amazing.
What advice do you have for people thinking about getting involved in adventure racing?
Those people who are interested in adventure racing should just give it a try, starting with a 6 hour event or something similar. And those mud runs don’t count! ( too gimmicky!) A true race should test your physical and mental ability. The single biggest factor of this type of event is the ability for all team members to communicate and come to consensus and not end up really ticked at each other. Many people can finish the course as an individual and feel good about it. But doing that as a team of 3 or more is a completely different story and adds a dimension to the race that not only complicates it but enriches it as well.
So you’re not adventure racing anymore but I heard you completed the Camino de Santiago a couple of years ago. What was that like?
I am not able to really race anymore because I had a hip replacement 9 years ago (nothing to do with all that running I did) and running is not recommended after surgery. But I do stay very active and walking/trekking is my preferred activity. My friend Brien Crothers and I completed all 490 miles of the Camino De Santiago in 2016 and it was very mentally challenging! We averaged about 25 miles per day and there were times when we both wondered what made us think this was a good idea? But in the end, it was an experience that I’ll never forget and one that taught me a lot. And yes, there are other versions of the Camino, and I hope to complete the one that starts in Portugal sometime in the near future.
What’s your next adventure?
Right now I am in the planning stages for the Tour of Mont Blanc trek that begins in Switzerland and goes around Mont Blanc through France and Italy. And then one of these days, I’d really like to do the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) as a through hike.
The perfect s’more?
The perfect S’more is the classic, made with good old Hershey’s chocolate and of course graham crackers and marshmallows. But my camping does not generally involve a campfire; rather a camp stove or a JetBoil, so that I can make a nice cup of camp coffee or tea to have with Peanut M&M’s. No trip is complete without the M&M’s!
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