Chip Dodd joined EO Southeast Virginia in 2013. He is currently the president and CEO of Support Services of Virginia, a mid-sized company that provides Intellectual and Developmental Disability Waiver services, supports and housing in community-based integrated settings across Virginia, USA. He is also a keynote speaker and considers himself a “fun-loving outdoorsy person with too many hobbies to count.”
In the past five years, one hobby, in particular, has hooked his attention and driven his leadership skills to new levels: adventure racing. Adventure racing, also called expedition racing, is considered the toughest endurance sport in the world. It’s a racing series that spans the globe and pits athletes against themselves in some of the most rigorous landscapes on the planet. Teams feature four members—at least one man and one woman—that race nonstop across hundreds of kilometers, with no GPS devices and no marked route.
We asked Dodd to discuss his passion for this extreme hobby and how it informs his professional endeavors.
How did you become involved in adventure racing?
My EO forum mate Rich Braun wanted to do a race and needed a teammate. He had done one race before more than 10 years prior, but he had his eyes on a 24-hour race called the Shenandoah Epic. It pressed all my fun buttons at the same time and I was hooked. That was around five years ago.
How does being an entrepreneur empower you to participate in these exciting races?
Adventure racing and being an entrepreneur have many parallels. In my presentations, I explain that each race is like taking a company from an idea to exit. All the components are there: Setting a big goal, building a team, training, visualizing the race, executing the race, managing limited resources, logistics, knowing which KPIs to measure, overcoming unforeseen setbacks, solving complex problems, adapting and pivoting, knowing when and when not to quit and, best of all, celebrating the finish.
EO helped me get off the treadmill so I could follow my passion. It also taught me the skills needed to lead one of the top adventure race teams in the country. (Currently, we are ranked eighth in the US in the elite co-ed division). Now expedition-length adventure races teach me the more advanced skills I need to take my company to the next level.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself and your team from adventure racing?
That the human body is 10X more capable than most people think. Of course, you have to be mentally strong enough not to give up and tolerate long periods of discomfort. Up until my most recent Africa race, I had no clue that it was possible to race for 128 hours with less than 2 hours of sleep per night—all while navigating by map and compass, which requires solving complex puzzles the whole way.
Most think racing in these conditions would be miserable. In reality, I was in tears on the last day of Africa because I didn’t want it to end. It is where I truly feel alive and at my best. A perfect example of “flow.”
Coming back to reality is depressing, so I have to quickly put another big race on the calendar to look forward to. This also helps me stay motivated and focused at work so I can continue to chase my passion.
What’s been your biggest failure in a race situation, and what lessons did you learn from it?
Here’s one that was the most painful and avoidable: I attempted the 24-hour Shenandoah Epic solo. Although I trained hard, I did not train on elevation. Toward the end of the race, my IT band (the tendon that runs down the length of your outer thigh) failed and I could barely walk.
I was on Massanutten Ridge in Virginia and had over 10 miles to hike to the next transition area (TA). Other than 911, I had no easy way out. For over seven hours I limped from the ridge down to the TA in extreme pain. On the steep sections, the only way I could keep going was to walk backward to relieve the stress on my IT.
This was the only time I have ever given up and had the race director transport me to the finish. Giving up will haunt me forever—and it was completely avoidable. If I had a team, I would have let them down. Now that I train properly, my knees don’t give me any trouble. Paraphrasing a military expression, “train like you race.”
Does adventure racing make you a better leader?
Leading an adventure race team requires the same skills that we are supposed to use in our businesses but they are 100 times more critical on these routes.
As I mentioned earlier, these races are like taking a company from beginning to end in a very compressed period of time. You have to be hyper-aware of every conversation and every emotion. You’re reading body language, empathizing, encouraging, managing frustration, asking for help, offering help, etc. Everyone is super tired, physically exhausted, sometimes hot, sometimes cold, sore, cramping, hungry, thirsty and missing their family.
Under these conditions, we do not have time to make mistakes, bicker, hold a grudge or play the normal games people play. We have to execute the race and manage our selves in such a way that we operate like a well-oiled machine. There is an old saying that “a team is only as fast as its slowest member” but that is not the case in AR or business. I like to think “a team is only as fast as they can get their slowest member to go.”
We all need to know when to ask for help and when to offer it. Working together as a unit is how my adventure race and work teams have been successful all these years. Practicing these skills in races helps me avoid many pitfalls at the office.
What would you share with other people considering entering a race?
Start with a race under 12 hours. On the first few races, team up with an experienced racer and navigator because getting lost is soul-crushing. Watch adventure race videos on YouTube to get familiar with how races flow.
Acquire the proper gear. Train with the exact same gear on the same conditions you foresee in the race. Practice navigation at local orienteering meets. Exercise by trail running or mountain biking on rugged terrain with elevation almost every day. Blend in paddling a couple of times a week. Train with a loaded pack. Train in all weather conditions. Experiment with different foods and beverages to sort out any digestive issues.
Also, get to know other racers and learn from them. Check out the resources on the Adventure Racing Cooperative website and join the Adventure Racing Discussion Group on Facebook. Listen to the TA#1 Podcast on Podomatic.
If you want to be successful at racing for over 30 hours, expedition racing needs to become a lifestyle. Understand that adventure racing is not for everyone. You have to be a special kind of person to enjoy pushing your limits to this extreme.
The first adventure race that Chip Dodd championed was also a MyEO event. MyEO is a platform that allows EO members to connect based on their passions and pastimes. It is also one of the most popular benefits of EO membership. Dodd is currently serving his first year on the MyEO Committee as the Experts Lead for the Americas.