The sport of adventure racing requires a special type of grit, fitness and know-how to compete well. Do you have what it takes?
Have you ever considered whether adventure racing might be the sport for you? If so, your first question may be why we’re talking about adventure racing now when the slopes are deep with snow. Basically, competing in an adventure race requires early preparation. Start now.
Why? An adventure race asks more from its participants than a traditional marathon or mountain bike race, or even a triathlon. Those races generally include a simple strategy of getting from here to there in the fastest time possible. In those events the course is known and the goal is the same: go fast, stay fueled and hydrated, and pace yourself. Adventure racing is a completely different beast, requiring a level of self-sufficiency that goes far beyond being fit and fast.
If adventure racing has captured your interest, ask yourself these questions to determine whether you’re ready to prepare for one.
1) What is adventure racing?
An adventure race is a multi-sport event that requires fitness and skill beyond more traditional events. Each race falls into a category, typically Sprint Race, One-Day Race, Multi-Day Race and Expedition Race (each described below). As the name implies, an adventure race is an adventure, one that occurs over a couple hours or up to a couple weeks, depending on the category. The races in our neck of the woods are typically either 6- to 24-hour races. Some competitors experience an adventure race as an exploration or scavenger hunt that trends toward an expedition. The race asks its participants to plot their own course using a set of UTM coordinates and to travel to them across unknown landscapes. Linking the coordinates requires teamwork, creativity, mental fitness and, to compete with the best, experience.
2) What are the main disciplines?
The main sports involved in an adventure race are navigation, foot travel, paddling and biking. Navigation, addressed below, puts it all together. The foot travel could be hiking, trekking, or running on old logging roads, trails and any variety of terrain. Paddling could be in a canoe, inflatable, packraft, or kayak on a river, creek, or lake. The biking can be on pavement, old roads, trails or single-track, or up and down a mountain-bike course at a ski resort. You can count on the race director to plan a course that makes good use of all nearby options.
Be prepared for variety. Race directors like to throw in the occasional surprise, which could include a Tyrolean Traverse, river boarding, a rope rappel, caving, paddling an inner tube across a lake, or even rollerblading. In one of my first races the participants were provided a wood pallet and three inner tubes. With these materials, we were tasked with building a craft and paddling it across a lake to a running leg, then paddling it back across the lake to begin a biking leg.
You’ll get a head’s up should your own equipment be needed for any of these surprises.
3) What is there to know about navigating an adventure race?
You need to know how to read a compass and a topography map. Each team is also responsible for plotting a list of provided UTM coordinates on a map, which means each team can potentially follow a different course. A team strategy to connect the coordinates, identified as either a transition area, “TA,” or checkpoint, “CP,” can make or break a race. The map and compass are the only tools allowed to plan your route so proficiency with each is important. Some race directors allow altimeters to be used during a race.
GPS units or navigation apps are never allowed. It cannot be overstated the importance of orienteering; without this skill, you’re stuck scratching your head or opting for dead reckoning, which will get you nowhere but lost or off course. I have seen strong teams tank during a race because of poor navigation skills.
There are plenty of resources online to help you learn orienteering. A local orienteering club can accelerate the building of your orienteering skills.
4) What are the categories in adventure racing?
The categories are generally broken into Sprint Race, One-Day Race, Multi-Day Race and Expedition Race. Depending on the race, the divisions include solo, two-person or three- to four-person teams, with male, female and coed categories.
A Sprint Race is commonly a 3- to 6-hour race, and a good category for a beginner or to prepare for a longer race.
A One-Day Adventure Race is either a 12- or 24-hour race. This race is the most popular category, containing the majority of events and attracting the largest fields of seasoned racers.
A Multi-Day Race is typically a two- to four-day race.
An Expedition Race can take place over 4 to 10 days, a true expedition through wilderness for apex competitors.
5) How do I get ready?
An adventure racer is an endurance athlete. You need to build your endurance with regular, disciplined conditioning. Ideally, your daily schedule will alternate biking and running, or combine them. Consistency is key. While training I bike or run an hour a day during the week and go bigger on the weekend. An occasional paddle day will assist the paddling leg(s).
On weekends, run or ride your bike for 6 or more hours (straight!). Use these opportunities not only as a big training day but also to take that big ride or run you’ve always wanted to do – for fun! You’ll need the long days to condition your butt to the bike saddle, become comfortable in your shoes and learn where to tweak your racing gear for comfort.
Rest is important too, so a day or two a week should be used to stretch and stay limber but without an intense workout. Go for a walk!
6) Are there adventure races near me?
Go online to search your area for adventure races near you. The United States Adventure Racing Association (USARA) keeps a running list of events across the country. If you’re within the coverage area of Adventure Pro Magazine, check out the Rocky Mountain Adventure Series. This 10-race series ranges from 4-hour races to 24-hour races. Compete in three or more and you earn points to qualify for prizes at the end of the season.
Rocky Mountain Adventure Series Races
May 7: Genesis Adventure Race, 6-hour race; Littleton, Colorado
June 6: The Grand Adventure Race, 8-hour race; Mesa County, Colorado
June 27: Teton Ogre Adventure Race, 8- and 12-hour races; Driggs, Idaho
July 19: Surly Pike, 6- and 12-hour races; Pinedale, Wyoming
July 24-26: NOMAD Adventure Race, 48-hour race; Eagle County, Colorado
August 15-16: Never Summer Adventure Race, 6- and 24-hour races, Grand County, Colorado
August 29: Bears Ears Adventure Race, 12-hour race; North Routt County, Colorado
August 30: Quarry Mountain Quest, 6-hour race; Steamboat Springs, Colorado
September 26: S’More Adventure Race, 4-hour race; Deckers, Colorado
October 10: Sleep When You’re Dead, 12-hour overnight race; Red Feather Lakes, Colorado