14-Year-Old Races Solo, Beats Out Adult Teams in Adventure Race
Competing with 21 other teams of all ages, 14-year-old Ian Dunlap held a solo orientation clinic and took first place in the Mission Lite Adventure Race 2022.
Like triathlons or ultras, adventure races require a varied skill set and sustained focus. Although there is no standardized format for adventure racing, most events involve human-powered travel by foot, bicycle, and canoe.
Races are held in multiple segments, where teams of one, two or three use map-and-compass navigation to locate waystations or checkpoints. For each checkpoint reached within a predefined time, teams earn points. In the event of a tie on points, the fastest team wins the glory.
Mission Lite Adventure Race
On May 7, Ian Dunlap took part in the Mission Lite — a 4-hour race led by Do INdiana Off-road (D.IN.O). With the exception of 14-year-old Dunlap and three other teams, all of the competing parties had two or three members.
When the dust cleared, Dunlap had reached nine checkpoints in 3 hours and 48 minutes to earn the top spot on the podium. He finished 12 minutes faster than the next solo runner and 27 minutes ahead of the second place team.
Under D.IN.O racing rules, competitors are allowed to bypass certain segments of the racetrack in exchange for a one-point penalty. Participants do not know the sequence of segments in advance.
Skipping a segment is a risk. Competitors can choose to drop a point in favor of segments in which they feel more confident.
But Dunlap used the rule to his advantage.
Dunlap’s strategic bet
As the teenager completed the initial cycling segment of the Mission Lite, he made a strategic and improvised decision not to canoe and sacrifice a point.
“As I rode I saw several teams coming back from the paddle section,” Dunlap told us. “I looked at the map and it looked like it was around 3-4km round trip, which would have taken me almost 2 hours to earn a single point.”
By avoiding paddling, Dunlap was able to switch to his natural wheelhouse: orienteering. “I’ve been orienteering for about half my life, and I consider it my strongest discipline in adventure running,” Dunlap said.
In the end, the improvised audible was important for Dunlap – he scored four points in orienteering, which more than made up for his penalty.
According to D.IN.O race director Brian Holzhausen, Dunlap’s success in the orienteering segment was a sight to behold. “It’s not just a matter of strategy. It’s a very hilly and challenging course,” said Holzhausen. “Ian is not a slacker. He did his best, it was a well deserved victory.
Although D.IN.O races are hosted exclusively in Indiana, adventure races are popping up across the world. In the United States, the main organizing body for adventure races is the Adventure Racing Association of the United States (USARA).
D.IN.O’s Mission Lite 4 Hour is an entry level version of the 18 Hour version Mission Adventure Race. Adults be warned: the 14-year-old plans to make the main event next year.