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SPORTS WEEKEND | OUTDOORS / PETE THOMAS

Gauntlet Thrown for Castaic Gantlet

October 23, 1998|PETE THOMAS

Running five to eight miles, kayaking for about an hour and riding mountain bikes 10 to 15 miles--that's a challenge. Doing it on a course that includes obstacles such as mud pits and 12-foot-

barriers--that's an adventure.

That's what the 300 competing teams will be up against in the Hi-Tec Adventure Racing Series national championships Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Castaic Lake Recreation Area.

The actual course isn't divulged until the day of the race. And to make things more difficult for the competitors--and to provide more excitement for spectators--race organizers at every venue plan a series of "special mystery tests" that must be successfully negotiated before a team can continue.

Many of these are obstacles similar to those used in military training. At last year's race in Miami, for example, the Marine Corps was called on to design a 12-foot barrier that came to be known as the "wall from hell," and at another point during the same race the Marines, armed with machine guns, ordered each competitor to perform 20 push-ups.

One of the obstacles at a race in Pittsburgh earlier this year was a 20-foot linoleum ramp smeared with vegetable oil.

"I never heard of that one," said Danelle Folta, a member of the Playboy X-Treme Team, "but our team once had to drag a 100-pound log through the mud, and that was pretty tough."

Among the competitors for the Castaic race--in five divisions: coed, male, female, corporate and masters (with a minimum combined age of 120--will be Folta and her teammates, who are models for Playboy magazine; Jim Garfield, a veteran adventure racer for team Hi-Tec and a renowned physical trainer known as the "fitness guru to the stars," as well as hundreds of "weekend warriors" who have jumped on the Adventure Racing Series bandwagon.

The brainchild of Agoura Hills-based promoter Michael Epstein--who's a little surprised himself at how fast this sport has taken off--the series has grown from two events in 1996 to nine in 17 states this year, with the grand finale being the national championships at Castaic Lake.

This is certainly not survival racing in its purest form, like such international spectacles as the Raid Gauloises or Eco-Challenge, the latter broadcast in recent years by the Discovery Channel, thus turning the masses on to the sport.

Nor is it as grueling or as difficult to get involved in from a practical standpoint. Therein lies the attraction.

"Anyone can finish these," says Garfield, 34, who has also competed in the Raid Gauloises and Eco-Challenge. "Not everyone can come in first, but they can have a lot of fun trying and doing something they've never done before. You're only as fast as the slowest person, though, so you've got to be able to work together as a team."

Indeed, the races bring out all types, from ultra-fit athletes who finish in three to four hours to casual outdoor enthusiasts who can take as long as eight hours to finish.

Not all take themselves seriously, which one can easily gather by glancing down the list of team names: The Three Stooges, Team Viagra, The Queen and Her Slaves . . .

But there are the egomaniacs who pride themselves on their physical condition and train hard for these races--and plan to be among the first to cross the finish line. Three such individuals form Team Firestorm, all firefighters from the Los Angeles area.

Their captain is Bob Doyle, 34, a former Marine reconnaissance team leader whose teammates include Mike Richardson, 39, winner of the Fireman Olympics' "Toughest Man Alive" competition, and Eric Andrade, 32, who claims to have played pro football in the United States and Canada.

Then there is the Playboy team, with Folta as captain and Kelly Monaco and Denise Tormey as her teammates for the Castaic race.

Folta, an avid runner and snowboarder, learned about the Adventure Racing Series while at the Playboy Winterfest last year in Vermont, when executives with the footwear manufacturer noticed she was wearing Hi-Tec boots and invited her to compete in the race in Miami.

She agreed, lined up a couple of willing Playmates and, so as not to embarrass themselves, contracted the training services of Blain Reeves, a former U.S. Army officer with Special Forces training and a two-time winner of the Army's "Best Ranger" competition.

"The first day, he met me and Denise at my house," she said, "and we're all clean and running around in our outfits . . . Well, we got back two hours later all covered with sweat and dirt. I was addicted."

Folta's team finished second in the Miami race, second at New York and fifth at Hartford, Conn.

So successful was the Playboy team that other models wanted in and Folta now has nine that she trains and competes with.

QUICK CASTS

* The annual big-money Bisbee Black & Blue Marlin tournament is in progress through Sunday at Cabo San Lucas. Results will appear in next week's column.

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