July 4, 2012

Pain equals gain for Finnell, adventure racing teammates

No sleep and limited resources. Cold rain falling while wearing soaked clothes. Running, paddling and riding for 20 hours straight. Dead legs and arms.

And still with 20 miles to go to the finish line.

It is a miserable existence.

At the same time, the four-member adventure racing team known simply as BDAR wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Dalton resident Jason Finnell and teammates Zach Ballard, Adam Rains and Ben Smith, all of Cleveland, Tenn., have enjoyed success by keeping up with some of the best-known professional squads in the country. And despite remembering each low point and painful moment from the previous race, they still act as the perfect example of a group competing solely for love of the sport.

“I wouldn’t pay money to do this if I didn’t like it,” Rains said.

The first time all four competed together was in May at the Atomic Elite 30-hour adventure race in Blue Ridge. BDAR finished first in the four-person all-male division and sixth overall with a time of 25 hours, 7 minutes and 6 seconds.

While they did well, it wasn’t pleasant.

“It’s a 30-hour suffer session,” Finnell said.

And all four agree on the point when it was worst.

“It’s about 2 or 3 a.m.,” Ballard said. “It’s 52 degrees. It had been raining for five or six hours. It’s black dark. The wind is just howling up there. We really didn’t have, and part of it is my fault, we really didn’t plan for cool, wet weather. So we’re soaked to the bone and even our jackets are just cold.”

But BDAR was leading the race after 10 hours and knew it, which is unordinary for adventure races.

“We were (in second place) 16 hours into it, and we’re beating pro teams,” Smith said. “We’re four guys who just like to beat each other up and ride mountain bikes. We were curb-stomping pro teams.”

It was a “long race,” which is anything more than a full 24-hour cycle, and eventually the team hit a “low point,” as the four call it, and had to skip part of the remaining foot course, meaning they didn’t reach all the necessary checkpoints.

It is just an example of how doing well in long races comes down to whether the team can withstand adversity.

“That’s all it is,” Finnell said. “Just making up your mind that you’re not going to stop and continuing to go. I won’t say it’s easy but it’s simple.”

Said Ballard, “You’re going to get depleted. You’re going to get dehydrated. You’re going to feel (bad). Someone is going to have a low point and you have to, as a team, carry them through that.”

For Smith, mental toughness is a key part of passing the physical test.

“When we were way up on top of a mountain, it was cold, we were at 3,400-foot elevation and we’re sitting there going, ‘We’re 30 miles, 40 miles away from the finish and we still have a foot section left,” Smith said. “We’re past the 20-hour mark and we’re going, ‘This is ridiculous. What am I doing?’ And you’re going to have that moment in every race, whether it be from heat or cold or your hurting. That’s when other teams drop out. That’s when we’ll dig in and go, ‘All right, we’ll slow down and then we’re going to dig our claws in and go.’”

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