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Extreme racing draws adventure seekers

Joel Larson, and son, Miles race in a river
Joel Larson and son, Miles, competing in a family adventure race. (PHOTO BY WES PECK)

by Maxine Herr 

Joel Larson grew up on a farm near Valley City with a propensity for adventure. Whether he was devising a zipline from the barn to the trees or attempting tricks on his bicycle, Larson welcomed a little danger.

After graduating from law school and watching friends move away for their careers, he began looking for activities that would connect him to new people with similar interests. He found what he was looking for through Extreme North Dakota Racing, or ENDracing, a grassroots organization offering challenging, but affordable, extreme sports events aimed to push people out of their comfort zone.

“I just did one and realized this is a good, fun way to spend an entire day – running, biking and being outside while experiencing somewhat crazy things with other somewhat crazy people,” Larson says.

ENDracing’s former director Andy Magness sought a new adventure two years ago and moved his family to New Zealand, so Larson, who serves as an attorney for Minnkota Power Cooperative in Grand Forks, decided to dedicate his free time to help run the organization alongside his friend and fellow ENDracing enthusiast, Matt Burton-Kelly. With the help of many volunteers, the two have been able to maintain nine races each year and watch popularity for the events continue to grow.

“We have racers that have become family because we see them four or five times a year, but we’re always doing our best to reach out and get a few new faces for each race,” Larson says.

Races this spring welcomed more first-timers than repeat participants and Larson says the “new blood” brings a lot of energy to the events. The ultra-endurance races can include biking, trekking, paddling, swimming or running through some of the most difficult terrain within the state for 10 or 12 hours a day.

“The mental commitment to prep for a 50-mile or a 12-hour-long run takes a different person than someone doing a 5K or the Fargo or Bismarck marathons,” Larson explains. “But once you get out 30 miles and your entire world is minimized to a single step, it’s just unique. Almost nothing gets you into that emotional, almost spiritual-type, place. So once people find that, they have to come back.

Going the distance

North Dakota ENDracing events are unmatched, Larson says. The Wilderman Offroad Triathlon at the Pembina Gorge is the only one of its kind in the United States. And at 36 river miles, the Watersports Endurance Test down-river, ultra-marathon held in June is the longest swim race in North America. It started as a 27-mile canoe, kayak or paddleboard race from Grand Forks to Oslo, Minn., but then Magness had the idea to add swimming. Larson and others had some reservations that it may be too far. Much to their surprise, out of the 22 race participants, 13 of them were swimmers ready to take on the water challenge. After two years, the race was moved to 36 miles so it would end in Grand Forks for a more celebratory finish line.

“Twenty-eight people did it and all but one or two were able to finish,” Larson says. “In June, the water is cooler, which most people like, but the cold affected a few people.”

 A new generation of adventure seekers

Any profits ENDracing receives go toward Ground UP Adventures, a nonprofit, sister organization which encourages children and families to experience outdoor sports such as climbing, biking, hiking and water travel. Ground UP is currently seeking space for a climbing wall, skate parks and other opportunities to further the group’s mission. Ground UP currently provides an annual family adventure race and two youth camps to teach camping and survival skills.

Each summer, Ground UP sets up its Boathouse on the Red at the Lincoln Drive Park boat ramp in Grand Forks to rent out canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. At $10 for 90 minutes, Larson says the cost is kept low in order to allow more families to try out the equipment.

“We get kids outside enjoying running, mountain biking and paddling,” Larson says. “We’re just making our future ENDracers so we can keep having fun together.”

 Maxine Herr is a freelance writer from Bismarck.

Explore upcoming 2016 ENDracing events

• Sept. 10 – Uff Da Mud Run, Grand Cities Greenway, East Grand Forks near Sorlie Bridge

• Oct. 1 – Extreme North Dakota Adventure Race, downtown Grand Forks

• Oct. 29 – Extreme North Dakota Twelve hOur Mountain Bike of Enduring Delirium (END-TOMBED), Turtle River State Park, near Arvilla  

• Oc. 30 – Extreme North Dakota's Terrifying Run Amongst Innumerable Lost Souls (END-TRAILS), Turtle River State Park, near Arvilla

More information can be found at