Racing the Cowboy Tough
Fresh faced and clean shaven, McGinley Innovations team members pose at the start of the race on Thursday, July 18. They are, from left, captain Dr. Joe McGinley of Casper, navigator Afsheen Mostofi, Adam Knight and Lindsay Chirdiron.
The team got its first look at the race course on Wednesday and spent the rest of the day planning strategy and gathering gear. Their strategy was simple: First, maintain their bodies to prevent malnutrition and injury. “If you get injured or you get severe blisters, you probably aren’t going to finish. If you get sick or dehydrated, you aren’t going to finish,” McGinley said.
Second, besides the mandatory check points, get as many optional checkpoints as possible without sacrificing too much time.
The whitecaps in Seminoe Reservoir were rising 3 feet in the air, crashing against the adventure racers’ canoes. On the bright side, that brutal wind was at their backs, pushing them out of the channel.
Then, Team McGinley Innovations took the final turn onto open water and the wind opened up, blowing water into their faces. The whitecaps, now rising 5 feet high, crested the sides of their canoes. Though they needed to get across that reservoir, the wind pushed them to shore.
In moments like those, Dr. Joe McGinley often asks himself what the heck he’s doing. He was operating on just an hour or two of sleep. He’d already biked, trekked and climbed what seemed like halfway across Wyoming. He didn’t have to be there, crawling along Seminoe’s rocky beach, pulling his canoe on a rope, stopping to dump out the water that kept pouring inside. He was in the middle of a 9-hour slog across a reservoir that deposited him and his three teammates at another rocky beach every time they pushed off shore. And it was dark, nearly 11 p.m. before they made it off the water.
“Why? I ask that several times in a race,” said McGinley, a diagnostic radiologist at Casper Medical Imaging and Wyoming Medical Center and captain of Team McGinley Innovations which competed in the premier class of the Cowboy Tough adventure race July 18-21.
“If you just wanted a race to the finish, you’d do triathlons. You know what you’re going to get. This is adventure racing. Even though that was the hardest part of the race, it was definitely the most exciting part of the race.”
McGinley is back home in Casper now, having biked, hiked, rappelled and paddled more than 300 miles from Cheyenne to Mike Lansing Field in 3 ½ days in the state’s first Cameco and City of Casper Cowboy Tough Expedition Race.
You can follow his progress through the photos below, courtesy of Jacek Bogucki/Video Works who followed the team through the course. (Bogucki will be making a video of the race, and we’ll post parts on The Pulse when they are available.)
Here’s something to remember as you scroll through the photos below: McGinley and his team spent nearly 80 hours racing more than 300 miles across Wyoming, sleeping just 1 to 2 hours per night. They crossed the finish line in Casper around 10 a.m. Sunday.
Tuesday, McGinley was back at work seeing patients. How’s that for Cowboy Tough?
Building Team Wyoming
For next year’s Cowboy Tough race, Joe McGinley would like to build an all-Wyoming team for the elite class. He’ll also be looking for sponsors to support the team through training and the race.
For more information, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For tips on training for your own adventure race, scroll down to the last photo.
McGinley’s wife and son – Diane and Charlie, 3 – give McGinley an enthusiastic send off at the start line in Cheyenne. The Cowboy Tough start was unlike any other adventure race McGinley has been a part of. Gov. Matt Mead rode in on a horse, said a few words, and then fired the start gun from the center of the circle. Racers scattered in all different directions.
“That was truly Wyoming,” McGinley said.
McGinley rappels 100 feet down a boulder at Vedauwoo after trekking 5 miles in Curt Gowdy State Park and orienteering on bikes for about 12 miles to collect optional checkpoints.
“Vedauwoo is one of the places I hadn’t seen yet in Wyoming,” McGinley said. “It was just really amazing.”
Team McGinley rides from Happy Jack to Laramie, arriving at about 8 p.m. McGinley, who prefers junk food to protein bars during long races, stopped at McDonald’s, ordering a few cheeseburgers.
Still ahead: The last leg of the first day, a 58-mile bike ride to Medicine Bow -- in the rain.
The team arrives at the first transition camp at about 2 a.m. Friday. Each team must make it to the predetermined transition camp before the next leg begins. There, they have access to their travel bins – one per team – which carries all the gear and food they will need for the entire race.
The early morning sun rises on the transition camp at Miracle Mile on Saturday morning, just hours after they battled 5-foot waves on Seminoe Reservoir. The team averaged 1 to 2 hours of sleep each night before waking up, packing their gear and doing it again.
During their late-night walk from Seminoe, Chirdiron started hallucinating, a fairly common danger in adventure racing, McGinley said. Chirdiron claimed to see water bottles buried in the ground. They gave her a Monster energy drink and she woke up enough to get to transition camp.
“You can fall asleep when you’re walking and walk off the trail. You can fall asleep when you’re biking. You have to watch people when they start doing that because if they get a little goofy, along with the hallucinations, they can just run off the trail and can get lost,” McGinley said.
The team hikes around Pathfinder Dam with temperatures nearing 103 degrees. They would trek about 80 to 90 miles during the race.
Lindsay Chirdiron cools off in Pathfinder Reservoir while McGinley opts to keep his feet dry to protect from blisters which are exasperated by wet skin. Every adventure racer has his own routine for blister prevention; McGinley uses Vaseline and puts bandages over vulnerable skin. Racers also received care from a medical team – headed by Dr. Jerry Realing of Wyoming Medical Center – at each transition camp. (McGinley’s caution was all for not, though, since the team later swam in Alcova to collect an optional checkpoint.)
The team bikes from Miracle Mile to Alcova on the third day, one of about 200 miles they would bike throughout the race.
Team members enjoy a much deserved rest at Alcova.
Another day, another 15 miles to hike. This stretch led the team through the hills and valleys of Alcova.
Evening clouds gives the team a reprieve from the heat.
With two members per canoe, the team takes a nice ride down the North Platte as they make their way toward Casper. As McGinley pointed at familiar sites along the river, his teammates kept joking, “All we’re trying to do is get Joe home.”
Race directors can torture you at the end of the race or they can reward you. “This was definitely a reward,” McGinley said. “Almost like a victory lap.”
For the last leg of the race, participants belly-boarded the rapids at Casper Whitewater Park. Here, Chirdiron catches a wave. It was the first time McGinley went through Casper’s rapids.
Boogie boards in tow, the team makes the last climb to the finish line at Mike Lansing Field.
McGinley relaxes and chats with his wife, Diane, at the finish line on Sunday. For most adventure races, starts and finishes are isolated affairs – just for the racers. Not at Cowboy Tough. McGinley thinks, start to finish, the race was a huge success for Wyoming.
“It showcases the outdoors, the landscape and the vastness of the state. And it showcases the people. The people really make the difference. A lot of the out-of-state teams did comment on that and they really fell in love with the State of Wyoming.”
Looking decidedly less fresh than the portrait at the starting line, the team poses with a sponsor, Tom Thorson of Black Hills Bentonite.
So you want to be an adventure racer?
You’re in pretty good shape, maybe you’ve run a half marathon or two. You think you might be able to take your fitness racing to the next level.
Dr. Joe McGinley, an adventure racer for nearly 10 years, offers these tips for those thinking about adventure racing.
1. Hook up with an adventure veteran: That’s what McGinley did. McGinley is a member of Racing with Giants, an adventure racing community in California that puts together teams for races of all kinds – from shorter races, called sprints, to the multi-day affairs like Cowboy Tough.
He worked his way up through the ranks, going through their training programs. He’s now on the elite team, but when he started, he was the rookie. He competed in sprints with veteran racers and started signing up for longer events.
“ If you are an athlete or do outdoor activities, you can get in involved in this,” he said.
He’s also willing to help or train with people interested in the sport. Email him at email@example.com.
2. Learn to read a map: Orienteering and map reading are the hardest parts, McGinley said. Read books on mapping points and using a compass.
“That’s the main part of these races. Anybody can train, anybody can exercise and build their endurance, but navigation is what makes or breaks most teams,” McGinley said.
3. Build your confidence: Start with short races and work your way up to learn when something is or isn’t dangerous. Sprints also teach you about your own body – what it needs to keep going mile after mile.
Dr. McGinley specializes in musculoskeletal radiology and sports medicine with an emphasis in non-surgical treatments at Wyoming Medical Center and Casper Medical Imaging and Outpatient Radiology. He is an adjunct faculty member at Stanford University in the Department of Radiology.