From Rat Race on to World's 'Toughest Race'

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Martin Dugard's lament has a familiar, 20th century ring.

Trapped in an unfulfilling job as a marketing coordinator at Fluor Corp. in Irvine, he was, he says, "the living, breathing embodiment of 'corporate lackey' "--a suit-and-tie guy for whom going to work "was like doing time in a white-collar penal colony."

Dugard yearned for something more--to travel the world, to seek adventure. "My worst fear," he says, "was that I would grow old and die never having seen the world firsthand."

At 37, Dugard clearly has laid his fear to rest.

Since quitting his job in 1994 to work as a freelance sports journalist, he has covered everything from a tall-ships race in the Mediterranean to a dog-sled competition in Wyoming's back country and traveled at twice the speed of sound aboard a Concorde that circumnavigated the world in a record-breaking 31 hours and 28 minutes.

Dugard also has covered the Raid Gauloises--the world's toughest endurance race, held each year in a remote corner of the globe. Therein lies the inspiration for his new book.

"Surviving the Toughest Race on Earth" (Ragged Mountain Press; $19.95) chronicles Dugard's introduction to--and ultimate obsession with--the notorious, eight- to 14-day event in which up to 50 five-person teams race across hundreds of miles of forbidding terrain.

Considered tougher than the Ironman triathlon, the Tour de France or the Iditarod sled dog race, the Raid is said to push each team of four men and one woman to their mental, physical and emotional limits.

A $10,000 entrance fee buys each team the privilege of dealing with a mix of white-water rafting, mountaineering, skydiving, rock climbing, orienteering, cross-country skiing, spelunking and even camel riding (as was required as part of the 1992 race in Oman).

We're talking enduring freezing mountains, steamy jungles, scorching deserts and the threat of leopards, leeches, crocodiles, rocks, rivers, rain--and what Dugard calls "caving's indoor equivalent" of rain: falling bat guano.

In a word, the Raid is:

"Miserable," said Dugard with a laugh. "It's really weird. A lot of people talk about it as one of those things that when you're doing it you're cold, tired, wet, hungry and miserable. But the thing of it is that in the midst of all that, it's incredibly uplifting. You feel more alive than at any other time in your life."

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Dugard, a Rancho Santa Margarita father of three sons, was the first U.S. journalist to cover the Raid, in Madagascar in 1993, when Americans first began competing. That was three months before he quit his marketing job to begin freelancing full time.

Covering the Raid in Borneo a year later, he found that observing the race wasn't enough. He wanted to compete.

Dugard was no typical ex-white-collar pencil pusher: A lifelong runner, he ran competitively at Northern Michigan University and had run marathons, even triathlons. Still, he had to overcome a fear of heights and undergo heavy training that included scaling a wall of ice for his first Raid, in Patagonia in 1995.

To his great disappointment, he was forced to drop out on day fourbecause of a knee injury. He had better luck last year, in Lesotho, South Africa, completing the Raid in 11 days, seven hours and 49 minutes--2 1/2 days behind the winning team.

Why would anyone want to go through such a punishing ordeal?

"I think with most people, it's this adventurous pull to do something really epic," Dugard said. "But once you're out there doing it, it's really addictive. . . . You find yourself in this 'moment of excellence': You're pushing yourself harder than you ever knew you could push yourself, and it's not just once, it's all the time."

Although many Raid competitors "start out to do it as an accomplishment and say 'I did this,' they're either the ones who don't finish or don't try it again because they're doing it for the wrong motivation," Dugard said.

The "purest motivation" for competing in the Raid, he said, "is to pursue the sense of adventure and to take that big leap out of the comfort zone."

Dugard said completing the Raid in South Africa "made me think that anything was possible."

French journalist Gerard Fusil, who wrote the foreword to Dugard's book, organized the first Raid Gauloises ("Challenge of the French") in 1989. Since then, interest in adventure racing--a term Dugard coined in a 1994 article he wrote for Competitor magazine--has mushroomed.

Dugard said Raid officials turn away more than 400 teams each year, and there are now more than 300 adventure races, some of them one-day events such as one held recently in Miami for which 800 competitors showed up.

The ninth annual Raid Gauloises will be in Ecuador from Sept. 19 through Oct. 2. Dugard will be there, both as journalist and competitor.

He'll write about the race for GQ magazine and may pen another book on the race and the trip to Ecuador, which will be an adventure in itself.

Instead of flying, he and his four teammates plan to drive from the United States to the northwest coast of South America, a 4,500-mile trip that will take seven to 10 days.

Awaiting them in the competition: a trek to the top of an 18,000-foot volcano followed by jungle orienteering (in which runners use compass and map in a timed cross-country race), white-water rafting and canoeing, ocean kayaking, horseback riding, trail running and mountain biking.

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Dugard, who figures it may take eight days to complete the race, recently ratcheted up his training schedule. He lifts weights at the gym four days a week, mountain bikes in Trabuco Canyon and up Santiago Peak four days a week and runs 60 miles a week.

He insists, however, he's no Superman.

"When I first went over to cover the Raid, I thought that the people could only be extreme athletes to do a race like this," he said. "But people who do these races are, by and large, really normal people, not thrill seekers. They're doctors, lawyers and real estate agents who feel the pull of adventure and do this.

"I'm not an extreme sports guy. I'm a pretty normal sort of suburban dad, but I just get a kick a couple of weeks out of the year doing something out of the ordinary."

Dugard, who has traveled to two dozen countries on six continents, said he didn't write "Surviving the Toughest Race on Earth" for those who compete in the Raid or other adventure races.

It's for those "armchair adventurers who may never quit their jobs and chase adventure but can live through what I've accomplished. It really is a book about making dreams come true."

Dugard will speak and sign copies of "Surviving the Toughest Race on Earth" at 7 p.m. Thursday at Barnes & Noble in the Irvine Spectrum, 31 Fortune Drive.

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Ten Orange County poets will compete in finals for a place on the 1998 Laguna Beach National Poetry Slam team at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the F.A.C.T. Gallery, 30812 Pacific Coast Highway, Laguna Beach.

Competing during the evening hosted by poet Lee Mallory will be Daniel McGinn, Michael Paul, Beth McIlvaine, Victor D. Infante, J.D. Glasscock, John Gardiner, Derrick Brown, Jaimes Palacio, Mindy Nettifee and Chris Tannahill.

Admission: $5.

Four winners and one alternate will compete in the National Poetry Slam Finals in Austin, Texas, in August.

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An exhibition of works by Jewish artists, artisans and authors will be held during the Central Conference of American Rabbis from 7 to 10 p.m. Tuesday at the Anaheim Marriott Hotel, 700 W. Convention Way. Free.

Among the authors who sign their books: Daniel C. Matt ("God & the Big Bang: Discovering Harmony Between Science and Spirituality") and Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman ("A Spiritual Travel Guide: A Companion for the Modern Jewish People").

Thomas Cahill, author of "The Gift of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels," will be part of an evening of sharing inspiring stories about social action beginning at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the hotel. Free admission.

Also This Week

* Martin Limon, author of "Buddha's Money," and William Relling Jr., author of "Sweet Poison," will sign at 1 p.m. today at Book Carnival, 348 S. Tustin Ave., Orange.

* Hugh Hewitt, co-host of KCET's "Life and Times" and author of "The Embarrassed Believer," will speak at 1:30 p.m. today at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace, 18001 Yorba Linda Blvd., Yorba Linda. Lecture: $8, followed by a public book signing at 2:30.

* Orange County authors Jo-Ann Mapson ("Hank & Chloe," "Blue Rodeo") and Earlene Fowler ("Fools Puzzle," "Dove in the Window") will discuss their writing and sign copies of their books at 7 p.m. Thursday at Barnes & Noble in the Huntington Beach Mall, 7777 Edinger Ave., Huntington Beach.

* Randy Smith, author of "The Man's Book: 101 Ways to Survive Women's Liberation and Other Female Nonsense," will sign at 8 p.m. Thursday at Haute Caffe in Plaza Antonio, 22421 Antonio Parkway, Rancho Santa Margarita.

* Tres Tanner, author of "Enjoy the Journey Along Your Marriage Highway," will speak and sign at 7 p.m. Thursday at Barnes & Noble, 13712 Jamboree Road, Irvine.

* James Lee Burke, author of "Sunset Limited," will sign at 5 p.m. Friday at Book Carnival, 348 S. Tustin Ave., Orange.

* Mark Bacon, author of "The California Escape Manual," will sign at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Barnes & Noble at MainPlace/Santa Ana.

* Laurey Venn and Bev Gillett, authors of "One Day Self-Guided Tours of Southern California," will speak and sign at 2 p.m. Saturday at Barnes & Noble in Fashion Island Newport Beach, 953 Newport Center Drive.

* Scott Peck, author of "The Love You Deserve," will speak and sign at 7 p.m. Saturday at Borders Books and Music, 429 S. Associated Road, Brea.

* Mike Snyder will read from his collection of children's poetry, "Swimming in Chocolate," at noon Saturday at Barnes & Noble, 13712 Jamboree Road, Irvine.

Send information about book-related events at least 10 days before the event to Dennis McLellan, O.C. Books & Authors, Life & Style, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626.

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