Shenandoah Epic 2024 - Tradition with a Twist
Something very different and new is coming to the Shenandoah Epic this year…GPS devices! They’ve been a long-time no-no and total taboo in the AR community, but we are breaking the rules and allowing any type of GPS device for navigation in this year’s running of the Shenandoah Epic. Bring your iPhones and iPads, Garmin watches without AR mode, hell bring a laptop computer if that is the way you want to roll. There will be no holds barred on what device you want to utilize to aid your navigation around the course. The choice is yours. While navigation will be somewhat of a different style this year, you can still expect a challenging course with ramped-up strategy decisions and route choices. The usual trekking, biking, and paddling skills to get you around the course won’t be dumbed down. Your adventure this year will be just as cutting edge and different as the navigation requirements. We will be holding the course layout a close secret until the morning of the race, but don’t expect the normal run-of-the-mill AR course when you get your eyes on the maps for the first time.
We hope you can join us for the 12th running of the Shenandoah Epic with this new added twist. It is new to us and new to pretty much everyone else. That is part of the adventure we like to enable. Read more about this below.
In addition to standard race maps, you will be provided GPX coordinates for all checkpoint locations on a standard USB thumb drive. A GPX file will also be available for download once maps have been released. If you are using a GPS device, you are expected to know how to upload data to your devices. Navigation by map and compass without a GPS device will be possible but may be challenging.
Why do the GPS thing?
It may help grow the sport. If you ask anyone what they find the most daunting element to Adventure Racing when they first start it is the navigation component. If there is an opportunity to help simplify an already complex sport, I think we should try it to help get new people involved. There is so much to learn and think about for anyone getting involved in Adventure Racing–including taking on three relatively technical disciplines, having all the right gear, following complex instructions, and tackling a course that is unknown until the day they show up to take part. Using a GPS device does not completely take away all aspects of navigation and is not even close to having a marked course people follow, but it minimizes some of the sport’s intimidation factors and provides a crutch for one of the four disciplines for newcomers to lean on.
GPS navigation is an art in its own way. Anyone thinking they can easily download the data and blast around the course is in for a surprise. Along with the actual navigational aspect, there are many other factors to consider starting with devices, software, battery life, and processing data.
Adventure Racing is a gearhead's dream. Most of us already have and use some sort of GPS device, probably mainly for training and capturing workout data for platforms like Strava. Capturing where you have been is one thing, but determining where you are going using the same device is a whole different story. This is the opportunity to learn some new capabilities of that $800+ device you gave yourself last Christmas. For this race you won’t have to flip on AR mode, turning that expensive device into a $20 Casio watch.
GPS rules are hard to enforce. While there is a strict rule that no GPS devices can be used in an Adventure Race, it is impossible to monitor 100%. There is certainly an unfair advantage if one team is surreptitiously using GPS while everyone else is using a map and compass. Does this happen in races? Perhaps. By allowing everyone to use a GPS device in this event, it is leveling the playing field and removing a requirement that is practically unenforceable without strict protocols and rules in place.
Won't everyone just be looking down at their screens running from point to point?
The course has been designed with the use of GPS in mind. It will not look or feel like a traditional AR course. It will be more of a blend between a Rogaine event and an Adventure Race. All the disciplines will be involved, requiring the same skills in the areas of biking, trekking, and paddling. A strong focus will be on strategy and route choice, with a slightly more complex scoring system than we have used in the past to determine rankings. For teams who want to do well, they will still need to be able to read features, navigate the terrain, and have good route planning skills–in addition to all the other skills needed in AR.
Why mess with the Shenandoah Epic?
The Shenandoah Epic will be going into its 12th year. We are lucky enough to have brought the race to a point where we think we can try a few different things at a high-profile event that may make a difference to the sport.
By using GPS to assist with navigation we can get creative in a way we have not been able to do in the past and bring a fresh feel to the same amazing area that we have used for all the past editions of the race.
Is this going to blur the rules for other Adventure Races?
GPS requirements are standard across all races and probably one of the rules everyone knows. I think the Epic will be unique in the fact that it is allowing it and will be no more difficult to enforce at other races as it has been in the past.
Is this the way forward for all your races?
No. This is something that I have wanted to try for a while. I have always felt there is strong pushback from the AR community to do an event like this, but I think it is important to try it and see what happens. Maybe this is a way to help grow the sport, or maybe people won’t consider it a “true” AR or adventure at all. I’ll only know if I try and see what happens. The racers who participate in this event will no doubt attest that it was a bonafide AR.