Local athletes roped into big adventures

Tied together by a rope, a team of Peninsula athletes run through the dark trails of Water Dog Lake Park in Belmont.

It is 7 p.m. on a recent Thursday and the weather is cold. But the athletes, changed from their regular Silicon Valley office attire, don’t mind because they are training for a race that will last 10 days and offer much harsher conditions.

Led by Palo Alto lawyer-turned-kayaker John Turner, the athletes from the local team Racing with Giants are training for Primal Quest, one of the biggest expedition-length adventure races in the country. During the contest, first held in 2002, four-member teams cover around 450 miles by nonmotorized transportation, including mountain biking, trekking, mountaineering and kayaking.

Primal Quest officials recently announced the race will take place in June in Montana. Two months before the race, the participants will learn which airport they need to fly in to, but they will not get maps of the actual route until a few hours before the race.

“People love the uncertainty and the navigation,” said Turner, who went to Primal Quest in 2006. “That’s one of the things that makes it different from a triathlon. Adventure racing is much more amorphous.”

Turner says new disciplines can always be added to the race and the course is never marked, so getting to the final destination is up to each team.

Another important distinction that attracts nonprofessional athletes to adventure racing is the teamwork. All adventure races — from Primal Quest to shorter, local races such as Big Blue Adventure in Half Moon Bay — require a team.

“You stay tuned in to your teammates and it’s an amazing bonding experience,” said Turner, whose wife is also on his team.

Turner explains that every team has to have a balance of talent. The strongest mountain biker in Racing with Giants, for example, is Hani Juha, a Foster City resident who works as a manager at Intuit.

“I’m the strongest cyclist, but that doesn’t mean I can leave the team behind,” said Juha, whose nickname is “The Legs.”

The co-ed teams of four are required to travel together at all times during the race, according to the Primal Quest Web site.

“We’re tied together, so I can go as hard as I want to because I’m pulling the team — it’s like a self-regulating mechanism,” Juha said.

Juha, who helped Turner create the local team two years ago, explains that unlike most other teams, Racing with Giants is open to new participants. That is why they hold free training sessions in mountain biking, running and kayaking.

“We want to build a community and bring new people into the sport,” Turner said.

svasilyuk@examiner.com

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