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Team Quest’s Brent Molsberry on AR, Swim-Run, and How to React When Lance Armstrong Shows Up at Your Race

Cliff White (ARC) / 30.01.2020
Brent Molsberry
Brent Molsberry / © NW Multisport

Brent Molsberry is a race director based in Bellingham, Washington, U.S.A. and a member of Team Quest, the winner of the 2019 USARA National Championship and a top-10 finisher at GodZone in 2017.

Quest Races organizes the, Kulshan Quest AR (3-hour and 12-hour) in Bellingham and the Island Quest AR (3-hour and 12-hour) in the Washington’s famed San Juan Islands, as well as the Bellingham Swim-Run and Seattle Swim-Run.

Besides Quest’s own events, Molsberry also directs the Orcas Island Swim-Run and serves as an assistant race director for the Casco Bay Swim-Run in Portland, Maine, operated by Odyssey SwimRun.

SleepMonsters: How did you get into adventure racing? And swim-run?

Molsberry: Wise people take things in small, bite-sized chunks. They start with a three-hour adventure race and slowly build up from there. I took a slightly different approach. Garrett, my close friend from college, called me up one July day in 2004 and asked if I wanted to do a race with him in September. At the time, I was guiding kayaking in the San Juans Islands, and Garrett said that the race would be in the area. He said it was some race called Primal Quest ... 

Two months later we lined up on a beach on Orcas Island, and our merry band of rookies (Garrett Madison, Michael Horst, Cathy Canapeel, and I) headed out for our introduction to adventure racing. Six days later, we crossed the finish line, and adventure racing has been a part of my life ever since.

By comparison, the introduction to swim-run was a bit more subdued. I got an email from a friend with the subject line, “We have to do this,” with a link to the Rockman Swim-Run event in Norway. He also suggested that we put a swim-run on in the Pacific Northwest. My initial response to his email said, “I don’t swim – if God intended me to swim, he would have given me gills.”

Eight months later, Bellingham Swim-Run was the first swim-run in the Northwest. The following year, Jeff and Lars from Swim-Run USA (now Odyssey Swim-runs) reached out to me about putting on a race in the San Juan Islands, and Orcas Island Swim-Run was born.   

SleepMonsters: How did you get your start as a race director/event owner/manager?

Molsberry: My path to Quest Races and the RD life was spurred by my friend Paul, who lives on San Juan Island. He approached me about an adventure race on San Juan Island. He had race experience as the RD for the San Juan Island Marathon, and San Juan Island Triathlon, but had never done an adventure race. Initially, I was only involved with course design, but then Paul changed jobs and his free time became more limited, so over the next couple years I took on more of the RD role. Next thing we knew, I was adding other events and running things solo.

SleepMonsters: In addition to your work organizing events, you're also an accomplished athlete in many sports. What are your favorites and what's your level of participation in them?

Molsberry: Sports and just generally being outdoors are a huge part of my life. Backcountry skiing is my first outdoor love, but when the snow isn’t there, trail running, mountain biking, paddling and climbing all do a great job of keeping my mind and body fulfilled. I am lucky enough to have great access right out our front door, so I am outside pretty much every day.

The great thing about being an adventure racer is that everything is training, so I will race a variety of events, from stair-climbs in full firefighter gear, to surf-ski races, to expedition-length AR. I always have a few personal goals in the works too. For instance, last fall, after several years of scheme, I completed a Desert Trifecta. In the course of seven days, we ran rim-to-rim-to-rim on the Grand Canyon, did the through-run of Zion National Park, and biked the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park. I can’t let racers have all the fun.        

SleepMonsters: Is it true you were involved in the first swim-run staged in North America?

Molsberry: I am innocent on that charge. The first swim-run in the U.S., amazingly enough, was only four years ago. It was set up by Jeff Cole and took place at Cape Porpoise in Maine. Jeff had heard about the sport and wanted to try it, so he got a few friends together and made it happen. The following year, Jeff and Lars Finanger teamed up to create Swim-run Casco Bay and had 400 racers at their first event. That same year, Bellingham Swim-Run jumped onto the scene with 40 racers. 

SleepMonsters: Have you seen growth in your events? How do you explain the rapidly rising popularity of swim-run?

Molsberry: We are seeing growth in our events. The adventure races are growing slowly but steadily, while we are seeing rapid growth in swim-run. The rapid growth in swim-run is multifaceted. You get to run through the woods in a wetsuit, which is always fun. Compared to AR or triathlon, it is logistically way easier to travel for swim-run – you can literally do it with a carry-on bag. Try doing that for an expedition-length AR?

Some of it has to do with trying something new and challenging. Swim-run certainly checks those boxes. And similar to AR, you have a team (only two-person teams, but a team nonetheless), but as we know from AR, sharing the experience with a teammate can be really meaningful. The necessary communication that happens between the teammates also spreads to other teams, so you get conversations occurring between teams on the course, which helps develop the community feel in swim-run. You also don’t have to navigate, which is a big plus for a lot of folks.

SleepMonsters: What's it like to have Lance Armstrong show up at your event?

Molsberry: It was a very cool experience having Lance at our inaugural Orcas Island Swim-Run. He teamed up with Canadian Simon Whitfield, who has Olympic gold and silver medals in triathlon. These two were certainly the talk of the event, and many racers and spectators took the opportunity to talk with Lance and get their photos taken with him. The Orcas Swim-Run covers 20 miles of running and four miles of swimming in 13 swimming sections, and 6,000 feet of elevation gain.

Lance started swimming and running a month before the event (turns out biking is kind of his thing) and he and Simon pulled off a solid third-place finish. They basically came off the couch to take on a super-challenging event and left with smiles. That’s what you love to see as a race director. You love to see people push themselves and, whether that is a household name like Lance Armstrong or anyone else, you just love to see people pushed to their limits and happy with the effort they put forward.

It’s also fun for an RD to see a Tour de France champion and an Olympic gold medalist worked by your course. 

SleepMonsters: What does the future hold for AR and swim-run?

Molsberry: I feel like AR has some momentum behind it at the moment. As is the case with most AR folks, I am excited to see what the return of Eco-Challenge does for the sport. I am optimistic that it will generate new interest in our sport and bring AR out of the shadows.

While AR has been around for several decades, swim-run is the new kid on the block. The sport has been experiencing rapid growth and I think that will continue. There are several new swim-run events planned for next year, and that will make the sport more accessible to people looking to try it. For example, Odyssey will be doing Swim-Run Austin next November for anyone in Texas who wants to give swim-run a shot.

You can find more about Quest Races at https://www.questraces.com/

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