A Test of Will
Thrill-seekers? Daredevils? Masochists? What defines people willing to pay money to roll around in mud, plunge into ice ponds, scale giant walls, and carry heavy sandbags? Humans wishing to test their mettle and push their limits – physical, mental, and, for some, spiritual.
Over the past few years, endurance races have boomed to become a global phenomenon and full-blown industry due to the adventure and excitement they offer. Some-thing primal about these challenges stirs the basic instincts of desk jockeys and lures them out of their comfortable offices. Volodymyr Solohub, communications ex-pert for the EU project in Ukraine, shares his impression of these gruelling competitions: “It is business. There are more than 5 000 various types of endurance races across the globe. In February, I took part in the UK’s Tough Guy, the oldest survival event in the world, launched by a former military guy (Billy Wilson, an ex-Grenadier Guards trained soldier – ed.), which was based on military drills. We had to wade knee deep in freezing water.”
Ukraine does not lag behind. Founded in May 2015 by Yuriy Podlesnyi, Race Nation currently offers endurance races in Kyiv, Odesa, Lviv, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Ternopil, and Bukovel. Podlesnyi comments, “We are the only organisation here qualified for European and World Championship endurance races. During our first year, nearly 3 000 individuals took part. Now they number more than 9 500. Next year, we think the number will grow to 15 000. Anyone aged 18 can join us; in 2017 the oldest participant was 62-years old.”
Solohub has been an active Race Nation member since August 2015: “These ordeals are not designed for relaxation. Nor do I consider them a kind of sport as people of all sport backgrounds, shapes, sizes, and fit-ness levels can take part in the races. Trail runners – not heavyweights – are more likely to win the day. For me, these races are a challenge I choose to set for myself. When I first heard about Race Nation, I wanted to try to prove myself.”
JUST FINISHING IS WINNING According to the level of difficulty and distance, contestants get an adrenaline rush in a range of energy-packed contests. The Strength Race is a 5km route that best suits beginners. The 10km Will Race is a break-neck endeavour, and, as its name suggests, is devised to boost participant’s fortitude and stamina. The Spirit Race is 20km long and tricky enough to make competitors believe hell exists. The 7km Snow Race in Bukovel attracts both professionals and amateurs, while the 40km Ultra Race is the toughest of the series.
“While adopting practices used abroad, we invent original obstacles or adapt popular ones to local circumstances,” Podlesnyi explains. “For example, Snow Race participants have to hit the target with a snow ball. Some tasks require a good memory, as well as physical endurance.”
Each race has three categories – Standard, Team (for all), and Elite (for athletes). “I have won medals for all events under the Standard category, including the Night Races,” Solohub says proudly as he displays his impressive collection of medals. Amazingly, they all bear an inscription reading “Finisher”. Obviously, finishing is the common goal for everyone as rising above your own personal limitations is already a triumph. Victory, however, matters to professional athletes who compete for scores, cups, and prizes, with the all-round ‘ultra champion’ taking home a cash award.
ARE YOU IN GOOD SHAPE?
Race Nation organisers do not warn participants ahead of time what obstacles they will encounter or in which order they appear on the track. Runners should be prepared for unexpected surprises. As forfeit for a failed obstacle, they have to perform 15-30 burpees – push-up, squat, and jump. If they skip or ill perform the burpees, they get disqualified.
Solohub recalls with a smile, “For some time, rope climbing was difficult for me. These obstacles are usually set at the final leg of a course, when competitors are already exhausted. At the beginning, when I saw ropes, I would immediately do burpees instead of trying to climb. Now it is not a problem – Race Nation has motivated me to attend the gym regularly and stay in shape.”
Race Nation does not rest on its laurels but continues to strengthen its programme and geography. Last year, the Aquathlon, a run/ swim combination, was added to the list of events. What makes it special is that participants start off from a barge. Podlesnyi says, “In 2018, there is a plan to introduce Nation Swim, which includes open water events, and the Iron Way – triathlon races.”
Race Nation already goes beyond Ukraine with strong support in Almaty, Kazakhstan. “Last year we ran races in Kazakhstan,” Podlesnyi continues. It is a big country with beautiful nature, which enables us to arrange extremely complicated tracks. In the meantime, we are in negotiations with Georgia, Moldova, Romania, and want to expand into Turkey, Austria, and Canada.”
So what’s in it for you? Everyone finds their own inspiration in Race Nation as its mission is multifaceted. While contributing to a national idea and public health, it passes for psychotherapy, team building sessions, fun, and entertainment.
Participants from Snow Race in Bukovel on 24 March share their thoughts
Anastasia Sidorenko, cross-country skiing master, world (Andorra events), Europe, and Ukraine champion, personal coach, developer of customizedfitness.com.ua online courses, says, “In Bukovel, the hardest thing was to run up an 800m ski slope in knee-deep snow. However, I always set myself high goals. I look at every obstacle as a negative moment I struggle with in life. After quitting professional sport, Race Nation gave me what I really enjoyed and needed – training, soulmates, travel, and enthusiastic audiences. I aspire to place first three more times to be able to take part in international competitions – we have to show the world what Ukrainian girls are made of!”
Snow Race winner
Slava Kulakovskyi, adaptive athlete, Ukrainian javelin champion, shotput bronze medal winner, and personal trainer at Human (Dnipro), says, “Every day I fight severe pain from my amputated arm. It is the hardest thing for me; other obstacles are nothing in comparison. In Bukovel, I was victorious because of my determination, and I am sure many victories lie yet ahead. As a sports addict, I have been training all my life, and life is my instructor. Getting prepared for these races in Ukraine is not easy. Yet it is what makes them so appealing. My Race Nation experience proves that anything is possible if you really want it. I strive to reach my maximum potential, which is limitless.”
Snow Race finisher
Solohub, “Mud-stained, swamp-soaked, covered with scratches, I kept on running and asking myself – what on earth am I doing here and why? When I finished the race, all my doubts disappeared, and I can say, ‘yes, I did it!’”
Snow Race finisher
5 & 6 May, Kyiv
9 June, Kharkiv
14 July, Dnipro
18 August, Odesa
16 June, Kyiv
19 August, Odesa
Participation fees: 590-1490 UAH
Runners should be prepared for unexpected surprises. As forfeit for a failed obstacle, they have to perform 15-30 burpees – push-up, squat, and jump. If they skip or ill-perform burpees, they get disqualified