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Primal Quest: Spectators can see athletes in action

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RAPID CITY (8/7/09) – While Primal Quest Badlands isn’t exactly a spectator event, there will be opportunities for fans of the grueling endurance race to see the teams as they pass through the checkpoints and transition areas, said Kraig Becker, media director for Primal Quest.

Primal Quest Badlands will pit 37 four-person teams against 600 miles of the toughest terrain that the Badlands and the Black Hills have to offer. The round-the-clock race begins Friday, Aug. 14, and could take as long as 10 days.

Competitors will test their abilities in off-road running, mountain biking, caving, swimming, kayaking and fixed-line ropes.

Teams from around the world will converge on western South Dakota next week. There’s also a Team South Dakota, which hopes to become the first home-state team to finish the race.

Becker said this year’s Primal Quest is drawing a lot of attention because Team Nike, which has won all five previous Primal Quest races, has dropped out. “It’s wide open now,” he said.

Fans who don’t venture out to the race course can follow the events online. Primal Quest uses a sophisticated electronic tracking system called SPOT Messenger that maps each team’s whereabouts 24 hours a day. The system is linked to the Primal Quest website,, so race fans can track their teams in real time.

 “The live tracking system will go live when the race begins. We’ll use it in conjunction with the stories we put out, with little nuggets so you can feel what it’s like to be out on the course,” Becker said. “Last year, the system updated every 10 minutes. You could actually see them navigating, backtracking, sometimes going in circles.”

In fact, on-the-ground spectators can also use the tracking system to find out where and when to watch the race.

The course itself is a closely held secret until Thursday, Aug. 13, the day before the race begins, Becker said. Once the course is revealed, the checkpoints and transition areas will be posted on the website. Spectators can track their favorite teams and roughly predict when to expect the racers to pass by certain checkpoints.

But Becker cautioned that in the midst of a long, difficult race, predictions can be a guessing game. Teams get spread out all along the course, and there can be setbacks and delays. Your best bet, he said, might be to find a good checkpoint and plan to spend a couple of hours waiting to see your team.

 “It can be (a good spectator event). It’s so hard when they’re out in these remote areas, and you just never know where they are,” Becker said. “But the SPOT Messenger system makes it much more spectator-friendly than it has been in the past – especially when you can find a checkpoint that’s in a civilized place.”

There are two types of checkpoints where spectators can see the athletes in action: The regular checkpoints, where they simply check in and keep going, and the transition areas – marked “TA” on the Primal Quest website. At the transition areas, the racers switch from one sport to another, such as kayaks to mountain bikes. The transition areas often offer the best opportunities for spectators.

Becker said the course typically takes the racers through towns or past rural convenience stores. He said the teams often stop to load up on doughnuts or other high-calorie food before continuing on. The racers burn thousands of calories a day, and they are always hungry.

“It’s pretty fun to see them rolling through town. They just can’t get enough calories,” he said.

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