Yesterday marked the start of a competition of epic proportions. The Cowboy Tough race, conducted in a different Wyoming location each year (this year it's in Casper, Cheyenne, and the Bighorn Mountains), features three and a half grueling days of trekking, road biking, whitewater paddling, and mountain biking.
It takes a special kind of person to enjoy such a demanding event and a whole team of supporters behind the scenes to make it happen. Since NOLS is always game for adventure and risk management, each year the school provides medical support to all racers in addition to sponsoring the Wind River Country team, providing them with the gear and fuel (a.k.a. delicious treats) to get them through the competition.
This year’s team is composed of four amazing individuals: Karla Wagner, Brad Young, Chuck Schuster, and Shad Hamilton, who all hail from in or near NOLS’ hometown in Lander, Wyoming. But what makes them so amazing? They generously shared some of their secrets with us, like their race-day breakfast and training hours. Who knows, you may read something that'll help you to the finish line of your own multi-day adventure race in the future!
Meet the Team
Favorite part of the Cowboy Tough Race
Karla: Last year, it was getting to start the race in our own backyard.
Brad: All of it. It is going to be a blast.
Chuck: I am excited about the whole race.
Shad: Shooting the rapids in Casper, in a canoe.
What are you most excited for in this year's race?
Karla: I haven't really spent any time in the Bighorns, so it will be fun to see that part of the state.
Brad: Bike riding.
Chuck: The challenge and actually getting to compete after an injury last year sidelined me one week before the event.
Shad: It's country that none of us are familiar with. Last year it went through Fremont County and I knew most of where we were the whole time. We will have to trust our navigation skills more this year, as it's in the Bighorn Mountains.
Number of Training Hours Per Week
Karla: It varies, but currently 9-12 hours/week. I have one scheduled rest day per week. Sometimes everything gets fouled up by work (go figure … ) and I have to flex things around.
Race Day Ritual
Karla: For the Cowboy, the logistics of transporting our gear from one transition area (TA) to the next are really pretty impressive on the part of the organizers. Each individual has a 35-gallon gear box that contains the food and gear that one uses over the course of the race. These are transported in a semi truck along with our bikes.
Upon reaching the TA, the first order of business is to extract the gear boxes from the truck and find a place to crash. For me, this was followed by a Wet Wipe bath, clean clothes, some food, some fresh water, organizing gear for the next day, reviewing the maps for the next day and then, hopefully, getting a little sleep.
Chuck: Get up early and try to fuel and get ready.
Shad: Pee, eat, drink, pee, and pee some more—then go like hell.
Race Day Breakfast
Karla: Normally I like eggs (cooked—not the Rocky thing) but that doesn't really work for the Cowboy. I'm typically not hungry when I first get up, so eating and immediately hitting the trail is tough for me. What worked well last year was a bottle of Ensure and a container of mandarin oranges.
Chuck: Yogurt and granola.
Shad: Race day for the CT is like four mornings ... pretty much, if you get to go to sleep [some teams cut down on sleep to get ahead on the course] ... I get up and eat whatever's handy. Seems like Pop Tarts were frequent—they keep well. Taste like cardboard though. This year Chuck intends to make us pancakes every morning, though, I'm looking forward to that.
Best Food/Liquid to Eat/Drink while Racing
Karla: Powerbar electrolyte drink mix seems to treat me pretty well. Last year I ate gels and bars the first day and could barely tolerate anything sweet for the rest of the race. This year I'll mix it up with more savory items.
Brad: Scooby doo fruit snacks, Probar bolts, a few endurolytes (salt tablets) every hour, Twinkies, and whiskey/ beer for those puckering downhill sections.
Chuck: PB&J is good. Salty stuff is good too.
Shad: One race I do frequently has a bacon station. Hard to beat that.
Karla: My husband, Chuck.
Brad: Chuck, Karla, and Shad (those guys are amazing athletes).
Chuck: My tandem partner, Karla.
Notable past races/events
Karla: Chuck and I have done a fair amount of bike racing on both our road and mountain bike tandems. We've done the Leadville Trail 100 MTB (mountain bike race) a ridiculous number of times with a couple tandem wins, several 50s, some gravel grinders, LOTOJA [Logan, Utah to Jackson, Wyoming] a couple of times ... This year we started dabbling in some running. How that goes has yet to be determined.
Brad: I did an adventure race off the couch last year. I was about 40 pounds overweight, and lived!
Chuck: Where to start. Karla and I have done the Leadville Trail 100 12 times on a tandem bike. Seven of these we have been able to share with Shad.
Shad: The Leadville 100 MTB race is the biggy that all the training adds up for each year. Trying to get 10 of them done. Maybe even try for Leadman next year (this includes a 100 mile run). That'll be hard. Been doing a lot more running this season ... it's harder. Dunno if I can work up to hundred. Definitely a bigger challenge.
Karla: Once again, I am thankful to our sponsors for helping to make another stab at the Cowboy Tough possible. How lucky are we that we get to bike, trek, paddle, and who knows what else across beautiful Wyoming!
Brad: Please note my lovely wife Jenny and all of her support, encouragement, and patience over the last year, and into the future. I am very proud and happy to be part of the Wind River Country Team.
Chuck: I am really excited and proud to be part of the Wind River Country Team. I would like to thank the Wind River Visitors Council and NOLS for their support.
Shad: All this racing and training—I never missed a day of school last year (I'm a high school principal).
Molly is a NOLS instructor and writer. She loves the smell of her backpack and does her best writing before 7:00 am. When she's not scouting the next post for the NOLS Blog, she's running and climbing on rocks in Wyoming. Follow her on Instagram @mgherber