Physical limits tested at Train to Hunt event
They came from all over the country, as far away as Florida.
And, at some point on Saturday or Sunday, every single competitor had some level of regret about this decision.
As their lungs begged for more oxygen, their legs packed with pain, their arms and abdominal muscles screaming in agony, they all wondered what they had gotten themselves into.
Those slivers of regret slowly faded away — but not until they were able to fully replenish their lungs, grab a paltry piece of shade and rest their fatigued legs.
Just two weeks after Powderhorn Mountain Resort hosted a Train to Hunt regional qualifier, the resort welcomed close to 100 competitors for the Train to Hunt National Championships.
As Arielle Ferguson and Meagan Scharmahorn cooled off in an ice-filled metal tub, resting for the next challenge on Saturday, they laughed and groaned about the immensely difficult series of challenges that just tested their physical limits.
Ferguson, 31 and from Durango, was at the regional qualifier at Powderhorn, but nationals offered a much higher degree of difficulty when it came to the challenges.
“Oh man, this was 95 percent harder,” Ferguson said with a laugh.
The boxes were a couple of inches higher for the box step-ups and the required number of repetitions increased.
The event combines archery accuracy with high-level fitness.
Managing the heart rate
Competitors stumbled and let out agonizing groans as they trudged through a series of ruthless exercises.
Once arriving at the shooting range, they took deep breaths, sucking in oxygen at the base of Powderhorn.
Most wore heart-rate monitors and kept close track before they pulled back on their bows and took the shot.
“It’s really hard to shoot with your heart rate that high,” Ferguson said. “The first couple of arrows were pretty good, then as I continued to get more tired, it got harder. I aim to get in-between 168 to 182, I shoot at my highest potential at 165 (heart rate).”
This is the exact goal of Train to Hunt — to simulate realistic archery hunting scenarios. Like getting the heart rate down after a tough backcountry hike, so a hunter can make that accurate kill shot.
Ferguson and Scharmahorn had a spirited race for the finish line at the end of the challenge course, with Ferguson holding on by a couple of yards.
Scharmahorn, 29 and from just north of Daytona, Florida, knew the altitude would be the ultimate test for her and she was right.
“The run up these hills was mentally tough, I was hoping after every turn that I was at the top,” she said.
Barry Lindenburger, a self-proclaimed “old guy” at 54, was happy when he finished the challenge course.
“You gotta keep moving, keep driving, keep moving,” the Klamath Falls, Oregon, man said. “If it hurts, don’t stop. With me, if I stop, I’m done, so I try and keep moving, even if I’m walking, I’m moving.
“The running was tough but I have my little idiot light to keep me safe,” he said with a grin, holding up his wrist heart-rate monitor that has a single red or green light. “If it’s red, I slow down, and when it’s green, I’m good.”
Getting the heart rate down and making a good shot is imperative to be successful in Train to Hunt.
Every target had three rings, with a center hit adding no penalty to a competitor’s overall time and a hit to the outside ring adding three minutes.
A tough challenge
For Ferguson, who will be archery hunting in the upcoming season, the finish line was like a winning lottery ticket.
“I was like ‘oh my gosh, I can’t believe I did it,’ ” she said. “I wasn’t sure I was going to finish after the get-ups, I just didn’t think I was going to be able to do any more.”
Another hunter is Lindsay Niestrath of Ashland, Oregon. She demonstrated her archery skill with accurate shots, and joked about her only successful big-game archery hunt, which didn’t take a difficult shot when she bagged a giant 6-by-7 bull elk.
“It was from 12 yards away,” she said with a laugh.
As for Train to Hunt, which she’s done five times, the 90-degree heat and long climbs made for a tiring day.
“It was really hot and the elevation was tough,” she said.
For LeAnn Rominger, 37, of Austin, Texas, her first-ever Train to Hunt was rewarding, but she too had trouble with the altitude on the hike/run.
“It’s a night-and-day difference,” she said. “This was 1.2-miles with 30 pounds and I couldn’t breath because I’m at zero elevation in Texas, and this was 9,000.”
But the heat was no problem.
“Not for a Texas girl,” she said grinning.
Scharmahorn trained in Florida using an elevation mask that restricted the airflow in an effort to prepare for the thinner air of Colorado.
“I was trying to get ready for these mountains,” she said, emphasizing “mountains.”
Most competitors this weekend are hunters, but some, like Scharmahorn, just love the fitness challenge.
“I ran track in college and my husband and I got married and started having kids right away, so I stepped out of competitive athletics,” she said.
Her husband spotted an online video and talked her into trying it, so she bought her first bow in October and started training.
“I trained the best I could and I was so happy to be done, there were so many moments I didn’t think I was going to make it,” she said.
The competition started on Saturday with the challenge course that included exercises like burpees, box step-ups and “get-ups” holding a weighted sandbag.
Then came the long hike up and down the mountain, followed by another hike up the mountain for the 3-D target shoot.
Sunday was the “meat pack,” which simulated a hunting situation of packing a hunter’s kill out of the backcountry. The course was a little more than 2 miles long, with an elevation gain of 1,800 feet before coming down the mountain. Men had 50 pounds in their packs and women 30.
Following the exhausting challenge course, fatigue was apparent on every face, but so was the overwhelming feeling of satisfaction. Many were even wondering if they would return for another competition.
“I might do it again, but give me a week or two to think about it,” Scharmahorn said, laughing. The mother of three then compared the event to child-birth.
“It’s like pregnancy, you’re like ‘I’m never doing this again’ and then you forget and do it all over again.”