Do you enjoy engaging in different sports in one day, love competing outdoors, or consider yourself an adventure lover? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then you might be interested in learning more about the sport of adventure racing!
If you already spend your weekends chasing adventure, you might as well get a group of friends together and work towards a common goal of finishing a race.
An adventure race is a multi-sport event in which teams of people (usually 2-4) navigate a course across varied terrain as they travel by bike down a mountain trail, hike through the night, paddle down a river, and often complete other challenges all while traveling to the finish line. Races can be anywhere from a 3-hour “sprint” to a multi-day adventure. It will test your endurance, but imagine spending a day (or days) with your friends completing challenges as you navigate to check points, sweating, laughing, and enjoying the adventure as you go.
The adventure racing industry is small but full of passionate and adventure-loving people. Races can vary in terms of what disciplines are included and the distance covered but here are the 5 elements that make up most adventure races:
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Adventure races truly are a team effort. If one member is really strong at one discipline, for example biking, but the others on the team aren’t as strong, they need to find a common ground to be able to travel together and get each other to the next section. If it means getting off the bike to push it uphill then that’s what the team does. Communication and patience in any team exercise is key! Having participated in an adventure race myself, I know that not communicating clearly can lead to a capsized boat and an oar getting swallowed by the current and floating away! Adventure racing turns biking, hiking and paddling into a team sport and often the team effort is what gets everyone across the finish line.
Experienced adventure racer and Shoestring Warrior Joann Grether says,
“I think the greatest skill needed for this type of event is the notion that giving up is not an option. Frankly, there are hundreds of places in the race where one could drop out, get warm and dry and just watch others suffer! But as a team, we just didn’t give up.”
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Teams are responsible for navigating the course and finding checkpoints along the way. A map and compass are paramount to ensuring the team doesn’t veer off course. The course may or may not be marked and getting lost in the forest can add hours to the clock and drain your energy. For races that last more than 10 hours, teams have an added complication, darkness.
Go on some night hikes and make sure you have a solid headlamp (and extra batteries) and can find your way without guidance from the sun. Note: shorter races might be easier since they happen during daylight.
Do you generally have trouble reading an old school map and aren’t quite sure how to use a compass?
Enroll in one of REI’s navigation courses or find some solid navigators and join their team. While the race is a team affair, not everyone needs to be strong in every discipline.
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Most races include a mountain biking section. Usually racers are responsible for bringing their own bikes and helmets. If you don’t own a mountain bike, rent/borrow one and spend some time riding on trails. You’ll need to know basic bike repair and how to ascend and descend tough terrain. Get to know the bike and be sure to use a bike you’re familiar with when you race.
Check out REI’s mountain biking classes if you are a mountain biking newbie.
Depending on the race and the time of year, paddling might involve an easy float along a lazy river or it might include some harrowing turns and rapids. While this discipline is a little harder to train for, spending time building your upper arm strength and comfort level in the water will definitely help.
Being close to a river isn’t always necessary, Shoestring Warrior Joann used to practice rolling in the kayak with her teammates in the swimming pool.
Read the race rules carefully; some events provide kayaks or canoes and personal floating devices for teams to use and others require that teams bring their own.
The event is, after-all, a race which means teams often try to pick up the pace when they are traveling by foot. Hikers and trail runners are often drawn to the sport since they enjoy spending long periods of time on trails. You don’t need to be a fast runner or hiker, you just need to build up your endurance and fitness level to be able to spend a considerable amount of time out on the trail. This is probably the easiest element to train for since it requires minimal equipment (although a good pair of trail running shoes are key) and most weekend warriors already partake in this activity.
So you’re excited and ready to convince your friends to participate in an adventure race?
If any of the above disciplines are completely new to you or your friends, testing the waters with a sprint adventure race might be your best bet. If you already consider yourself an all-around pro at the different elements and have friends equally skilled, then try a longer race! Loving the idea but can’t think of people who might be down to join your team? The next time you run with a friend or go on a hike with people, tell them about the sport and you might end up with a team faster than you think!
Adventure racing will definitely test your endurance but regardless of the distance you travel or the time you spend competing, you’ll finish with blisters, soreness, fatigue, and countless stories that you’ll share with your comrades forever.
Intrigued by the sport and want to learn more? Check out these resources:
Here are some upcoming races to get you started:
- AR World Series – They organize qualifying races around the world and the top two finishers from each of their races earns a desired spot at the AR World Championship. Check out their website to learn more about adventure racing athletes and most likely you’ll get inspired! Maybe you’ll end up adding “compete in an adventure race while discovering another country” to your adventure to-do list!
- Gold Rush Adventure Racing – The race organizers are long-time adventure racers and have been putting on events in the Sierra Mountains of central California for 17 years. Races range in length from 8 hours to multiple days.
- All Out Adventure Series – They claim to offer the top beginner adventure race according to National Geographic.
- Questival – The folks at Cotopaxi, an outdoor gear company, organize adventure races that aren’t quite as technically involved as some of the more serious races. The 2018 24-hour races in California don’t start until next September so you have plenty of time to train!