Education from Endurocross

The last 30 years has resulted in an explosion of emerging sports entering our lives. The choices for kids sport are far broader than the seasonal selection with which many of us grew up. As Canadians, past generations had a choice of hockey or skiing in the winter and soccer or baseball in the summer. Nowadays, the choices per season are almost limitless independent of where we live. Within a sport itself, the options abound. In skiing, for example, there’s now ski racing, moguls, park (slopestyle or halfpipe), and that’s before we touch on any of the Nordic categories. An abundance of activities at the professional level, too, has led to not just multiple sport networks but multiple channels for the same network. TSN has five channels. That’s five channels of all day and all night sport of some kind and they’re just one of several all sports all the time options.

Sports have spread like new breeds in a dog show. Many new sports are hybrids of two similar but different previously existing sports. For example, in the world of dirt biking there has been the traditional event of motocross where a mass start of competitors are released onto a dirt track that involves straightaways, sharp turns, jumps, and rolls, around which riders navigate. It’s a race largely done outside. Then there came the other end of the spectrum where specialized dirt bikes were built to navigate various obstacles. The sport of trials bikes involves dirt bikes that don’t have seats and do have very soft suspensions. The riders stand on foot pegs and climb over rocks, logs, and even cement barriers. The more brutal the barrier, the greater the challenge. Trials events could be held indoors opening the sport to new regions and seasons.

The sport of Endurocross evolved from what would seem to be a mating of motocross and trials. Endurocross was established in Europe and typically involved indoor events. The tracks include a combination of obstacle challenges inserted in a track like circuit. The speeds are faster than trials events yet slower than the full-out pace of motocross. Obstacles can be rocks, logs, tires, mud, and water. The machines used are similar to those used in Motocross. Endurocross has spread to North America and events are held both indoors and outdoors. Riders race against each other simultaneously while the clock remains the ultimate judge. The environment offers a challenge to operator and machine. Suspensions are stressed as are the physical capabilities of riders while enduring obstacle after obstacle with which riders repeatedly wrestle. Riders explore their limits while imploring their engines to give everything they can between obstacles. There’s a lot going on which makes the sport appealing for participants and viewers. The smaller track sizes give spectators a birds eye view to see the event unfold or allow them to focus on their favorite rider.

Even the new sport of Endurocross has expanded into an increasingly specialized activity. Hard or Extreme Endurocross is done exclusively outdoors. The terrain, obstacles, and duration of event are even more exhausting. Many extreme sports are compelling viewing. The risks these athletes are taking are real. Participants are putting themselves in some environments that are hostile. For some of these activities even if we can’t contemplate what screws must be loose in order to make someone signup for these activities, we can still appreciate what a thrill it must be like to pull off a stunt successfully. Skydivers, wing suit adventurers, cliff divers, big mountain skiers, and downhill mountain bike riders showcase skills in their sports which both look and must feel thrilling to do well. Yes, there’s risk, but the reward is compelling. The drive to feel what these extreme athletes must feel when sailing through the air with complete freedom can reasonably be addicting. Athletes at least for some brief moment feel other worldly, like Superman.

Hard Enduro seems to offer no such peaceful thrill. It presents participants with one obstacle after another. The sole purpose of the sport appears to be to a test to see how much misery and mayhem athletes can manage. One of the sport’s biggest events is held annually in Tennessee. It goes by the official title of TKO or Tennessee Knockout. It delivers to its name punching participants with body blow after body blow. Usually, its held in August. This summer month makes the misery of racers even more real. High temperatures and almost 100% humidity takes its toll. Over the course of three days riders work to qualify by facing one gruelling challenge after another. The event is open to all-comers. Amateurs are afforded the opportunity to give their skills a go against professionals.

Man made obstacles are painstakingly prepared to punish riders and test the engineering limits of equipment. Logs are littered across the track. Even concrete blocks are placed serving as walls which riders must climb over with their machines. Tires are buried into the ground offering unstable surfaces to navigate. Jumps are built. All this before the riders are introduced to the perils offered by mother nature. Surely, riders must be thinking, “thanks for nothing” by the time they leave the start area soaked in sweat. Now they muscle their way through single track dirt trails featuring tight corners and dirt jumps. Riders then continue through diverse terrain that eons of evolution seems to have worked especially hard to make miserable. The high moisture also ensures that terrain in the forests can be slippery. Riders can be seen paused, slumped over the handlebars of their machine, trying to gather themselves before attempting, yet again, a difficult portion of the course. The sport seems to be pure self-inflicted suffering. The reward is less about the adrenalin burst of achieving a stunt and more about the sweet satisfaction of surmounting a staggering struggle. The reward appears more like relief.

It’s beautiful. Hard Enduro makes a great metaphor for life. The event offers ongoing obstacles. A trip through a circuit is anything but a linear, known path. Riders can choose the easy, longer route or opt for the shorter, harder one. For these athletes, given the choice, guess which path they typically take? The road less travelled. The more difficult one is desired. The sport is an example of a quote from Marcus Aurelius, “Our actions may be impeded… but there can be no impeding our intentions or our dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting.”

Riders rarely make it through each obstacle on their first attempt. Things happen. Equipment falters. Riders fatigue. Obstacles own operator. Multiple attempts may be needed to scratch and claw one’s way up ridiculously steep slopes. Success rewards those that amalgamate adaptation across athlete and equipment to meet the demands of the environment. Those comfortable with being uncomfortable dig in as things become difficult. Somehow, in the midst of the madness, riders realize they are right where they want to be. They want the challenge. They seek the struggle. Blood and bruises are badges of honor. Mud is the coat of armor acknowledging the obstacles overcome. On some level our hard Enduro athletes have internalized the words of Napoleon Hill, “Every adversity, every failure, and every heartache, carries with it the Seed of an equivalent or greater Benefit.” Those that find success in life welcome failure as part of the process. They embrace adversity and relish the chance to try challenging things.

Hard Enduro is a contact sport. It reflects what legendary boxer Sugar Ray Leonard wrote about in his book, Life’s Work. “Most people look at boxing or any contact sport and say, ‘wow, I couldn’t do that,’ because they don’t possess the thing inside of us that makes us go through pain. It takes something to activate that. That’s what separates fighters from other people.” Hard Enduro riders are singing from a similar song sheet. They have thought about a question author Mark Manson suggests we consider, “A more interesting question, a question that perhaps you’ve never considered before, is what pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for? Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.”

In case you may be interested, the super bowl of this sport runs this weekend from Austria. The Red Bull Erzbergrodeo is the pinnacle of those that love mud. Over 1,500 aspiring athletes take their chances riding an incredibly challenging course that takes place on a mine. It’s a mine that still operates most weeks of the year. Red Bull arranges to have it shut down and used as the location for this amazing event. It’s four hours of dust and dirt coupled with sweat and hurt as riders battle each other and the natural environment to make their way through challenge after challenge.

They are served dish after dish of difficulty and all they seem to ask for is additional helpings of hurt. Boxers, hard enduro riders, and those successful in many professions realize that life isn’t all fun and games. There are those for whom it is no disgrace to get mud on their face. In fact, it’s in these challenges that they find their happy place. Problems are perpetual. This isn’t something to shy away from. Strivers choose the problems and struggles they will embrace. They have decided that this is worth working for. They desire the difficulties. Though we’re not world class athletes, are there frustrations we face that we could work to welcome instead of greet with disdain? What daunting hill climb are you staring down in your day? Is it a customer complaint? Is it trying to resolve a problem with which you have no experience handling? What if you tried to welcome the work associated with it instead of hoping it goes away on its own? Can you turn your troubles into a track to navigate? Problems aren’t something we can avoid. Obstacles are something to overcome. Can we see that our value is tied to the number and variety of challenges we can surmount?