From bouldering to bush-whacking, Checkpoint Challenge shakes up triathlons in SLO County

Athletes navigate the kayaking portion of last year’s Checkpoint Challenge adventure race at Santa Margarita Lake.
Athletes navigate the kayaking portion of last year’s Checkpoint Challenge adventure race at Santa Margarita Lake. Courtesy of All Out Events

Outdoor enthusiasts from all over California will descend upon Santa Margarita Lake on Saturday to put their physical skills to the test during the 12th annual Checkpoint Challenge.

More than 250 participants are expected to compete in a series of adventure race events that are designed to challenge elite athletes and remain achievable to dedicated newcomers.

The Checkpoint Challenge offers two distance options — a 3-5 hour partner sprint and a 6-hour half-day competition — and participants will cover 8-10 miles of mountain biking, 4 miles of technical trail running and 2-3 miles of kayaking.

“It’s not like a triathlon in the classic sense, where you’re just going hard for your swim, your bike and your run,” said race director Yishai Horowitz. “You really get to kind of experience new places. We try to change the course up every year so you get to see a new part of the park.”

Horowitz, who founded SLO-Op Climbing about 12 years ago and is the co-owner of All Out Events with his wife, Kristin, has been a fixture in the local outdoors community for years. Together they help direct the Morro Bay Triathlon in the fall and are planning a 12-hour adventure race from Cayucos to Montaña de Oro and back later this year.

Horowitz said Saturday’s Checkpoint Challenge will draw some participants from SLO County, but the majority of athletes come from the Bay Area and Southern California. The numbers have been evenly divided between the partner sprint and half-day, even though the 6-hour race appears significantly more difficult.

The technical trail running and kayak distances will both be doubled, and that race takes place on a less marked course where competitors must rely on their map and compass to complete the race.

“I think it’s more of an exploration. It’s also pretty hard,” Horowitz said. “It’s not the easiest thing to go bush-whacking through a bunch of stuff. It’s something that somebody wouldn’t regularly do.”

Individuals will receive a map, passport and passport instruction prior to the 7 a.m. Saturday start time. According the Checkpoint Challenge rules, team members must stay within 100 feet of each other and are required to follow the course, route of travel and method of travel when stated.

An ANSI approved helmet is required for the mountain bike section, and a Coast Guard approved life jacket must be worn at all times during the kayak portion of the race. And because Santa Margarita Lake is a municipal water source, no body contact is permitted with the lake.

Racers can be accessed a time penalty for violating rules, ranging from 10 to 60 minutes.

To spice things up even further, Horowitz said there will be a new rope course element to this year’s event. Competitors will be required to complete a “Tyrolean traverse” over the increased water levels, a method of using a fixed line to cross from one point to another while wearing a harness and pulling yourself across.

“Every year it’s different, so I think it makes it more interesting,” Horowitz said. “I’m really excited to have more water. The kayaking leg becomes a lot more interesting.”

Given the potentially dangerous nature of some events, Checkpoint Challenge has good relationships with the local search and rescue team to provide EMTs and rescue equipment throughout the event.

They also have an arrangement with CalStar, an air ambulance, and H70, the local CHP rescue helicopter for ALS and hard to reach locations, according to the Checkpoint Challenge website. On the water, a patrol boat will be available to assist kayaking.

“I think it’s a really fun event,” Horowitz said. “You’re going to be bouldering through a bunch of stuff, running through some creeks and then scrambling up rocks and going through bush.

“It’s a bit of a unique kind of aspect that I think attracts people.”

Checkpoint Challenge 2017

Where: Santa Margarita Lake

When: 7 a.m. (6-hour) and 8 a.m. (partner challenge) Saturday

What: Adventure race includes 8-10 miles of mountain biking, 4 miles of technical trail running and 2-3 miles of kayaking

Register: $125 for partner race (includes tandem kayak); $140 for six-hour race (does not include kayak); for more information or to register, visit alloutadventureseries.com/checkpoint-challenge-adventure-race/