Adventure Racing Around DC, an interview with Jim Harman and Holly Fisher

With the cold winter weather coming to an end, and the adventure racing season nearing its start, most of us are already thinking ahead of the events and activities we will be signing up for in the coming spring, summer, and fall months. Fortunately, adventure racing around DC is alive and well.

Locally, we’re lucky to have some great events organized by some experienced promoters that will not only challenge you physically, but also provide you with great opportunities to run and bike on some of the best region’s trails, and give you the chance to meet like-minded people who love spending time in the great outdoors.

I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with two of our area promoters, Jim Harman of EX2 Adventures (above; photo courtesy Bruce Buckley Photography) and Holly Fisher, of SCORE and MORE.

Jim, with over 15 years of adventure race planning is the founder of EX2 Adventures, and Holly, is MORE’s current event planner and the force behind SCORES’ Cranky Monkey mountain bike race series.

Jim’s zeal for “adventure” started early on in his life. “I was an Army Brat, so my family moved around a lot, it was a huge adventure for me,” he said. “I actually liked moving around since it gave me the chance to make new friends and see different places. I lived in Germany for many years, where I went to a DoDEA school, and got to travel with my family or the Boy Scout troop I belonged to.” He visited many places, including “Spain, Italy and other countries in Europe.”

“Later, when I was in my 20s I yearned to travel again and set out on a 6 week journey to Europe to visit some of the places I’d been to and visit new ones. I was amazed at the number of people who were, like me, traveling on their own, but for far more extended periods of time. These were people just like me who were, through their experiences, figuring out what was important to them.”

Jim returned from his trip and started planning the next one right away. He knew that he would be gone at least for a year. He took a leave of absence from his job and set out on the adventure that would take him across Europe, Northern Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii and ultimately across the country on a trip with his brothers. That trip would change his life and provide the foundation for what he would end up doing today.

“I returned with a sense of purpose” he told me, “I came back grounded with what would become my philosophy: Have fun and disseminate a sense of adventure in what I do, focus on mind, body and soul at every level, build a sense of community in whatever I do, and try and make a difference, no matter how small, in the world.”

Jim Harman

Jim’s love for adventure and outdoor sports led him to create EX2 Adventures. Photo Courtesy Jim Harman.

It is with that philosophy that he started the next phase of his life when working at the Adventure programs at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, Clifton, VA.” During my interview I pitched the idea of an adventure race and the staff loved it,” he said. “In addition to my regular duties I set out to organize the first ever Venture Quest race at Hemlock.”

At the time, in the late 90s/early 2000s there were very few adventure races in the country and adventure racing around DC was virtually non-existent. The format for Jim’s creation was simple: teams were tasked with navigating a series of checkpoints, all while trekking, biking and paddling the terrain of Hemlock.

The first year brought roughly 30 teams to the event and was well received. The second year participation more than doubled. Despite the success, Jim’s employers wanted him to focus more on other park duties, so they asked him to put Venture Quest on hold. Jim was somewhat devastated. “This was my baby!” he said. “I had so much fun organizing the event and seeing how successful it had become and what additional potential was there for adventure racing around DC, and I did not want to let it go.”

So, he proposed running and organizing the event on his own time and continued to work at Hemlock overseeing his regular duties. In 2002 Jim took the plunge and founded EX2 – (EXcellent EXperiences) Adventures.

The rest, as they say is history.

Over the years events have come and gone, but Jim’s portfolio of races has remained consistent – always true to his philosophy to promote fun and a sense of adventure, challenge your mind body and soul, and build a sense of community.

This year is no different. “We have, I think, a solid schedule for 2016,” he told me. “We’ve grown from just a couple of races when we started, to what I think is our sweet spot, 20. There’s a little for everyone in there, and this year I think people are going to love some of the new events we’ve added to the list.”

Those events include the new EX2 Rendezvous Run and Bike races (Spring and Fall) and the Fountainhead Trail Tri. Athletes can participate either in the run or bike portion of the Rendezvous, or both. “My goal is to bring two of our trail-user communities together,” Jim said. “Runners can come in the morning, do the race and hang out in the afternoon to see the MTB races. Or, runners can participate in the AM and then race their bike in the PM. Winners will be selected from just the run, just the bike, and from the run and the bike combined.”

The Fountainhead Trail Tri is exciting because this year elite athletes will compete on the entire length of the Fountainhead mountain bike trial. This will be the first time that the entire trail system will be used in a race. “The format of the race will allow us to not have elbow-to-elbow competition once riders get to the mountain bike trail. Because of the way Fountainhead is structured, it will create a much better racing experience.”

Jim’s Cranky Monkey Mountain Bike Series is no longer with EX2, but continues to thrive with SCORE (Singletrack Cycling Open Registration Events, Inc.). Holly Fisher, SCORE’s Executive Director, and MORE’s events coordinator is now at the helm of the popular race series.

“For us, the Cranky Monkey had run its course and needed a new infusion of energy,” Jim said. “I’m happy that the series continues on and is managed by an organization that is giving back to the trails where the events take place. This benefits all of our trail users in that it raises awareness of how much effort goes into maintaining the places we all enjoy – either for biking or running.”

Holly Fisher, right, discusses event day logistics with MORE's Executive Director Ryan Delaney. Photo: Joel Gwadz

Holly Fisher, right, discusses event day logistics with MORE’s Executive Director Ryan Delaney. Photo: Joel Gwadz

Holly took over the Cranky Monkey in 2015 and added new energy to the series. “The first year was a learning experience,” she said. “After the series was over, I followed a practice that had been implemented with the MoCo Epic (another event managed by Holly and MORE Volunteers) and reached out to participants for input. That input was invaluable and helped us make several changes to the series that we hope will enhance the experience for all participants.”

The changes include a series rain date, a later season start to avoid poor trail conditions, a new 6-hour endurance format, and a special “Cranky Monkey Dark Side” race to be held at night at Rosaryville State Park.

Having been involved with MORE, Holly has become keenly award of the importance of giving back to the trails we all ride on. “The Cranky Monkey series of races is unique in that it not only allows those passionate about racing to race on quality trails, but to also focus on giving something back to the trails they are using,” she said. “All net proceeds from the races are donated back into the trails to the local mountain bike clubs”

This year, SCORE will produce 4 Cranky Monkey events, including the Schaffer Cranky Monkey, the Quantico Cranky Monkey, the Cranky Monkey Dark Side, and the Rosaryville Cranky Monkey. Coupled with EX2’s calendar of adventure races it is a packed calendar of events that are bound to please the most ardent adventure racers in the region.

Add the Annual MoCo Epic, to be held in October, and all of your off-road cycling, running, and adventure cravings can be satisfied.