Introduction To Adventure Racing

If you’re an adrenaline junkie on the lookout for a new hobby, we’ve just the thing - adventure racing! Here’s a roundup of what’s involved in this multi-discipline sport.

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Adventure racing can best be described as races that integrate multiple disciplines into a single event, over a long period of time and over rugged terrain. Races can be solo or team events. The sport owes its origins to triathlon — swim, bike and run races. During the 1980s athletes took triathlon ‘off road’ and threw in a whole new mix of activities and adventure racing was born.

Entry level adventure races are usually four to six hour events and are essentially ‘off-road triathlons’ involving a lake or river swim, mountain biking and trail running (with a map and compass). From entry level events, adventure races increase in duration and number of disciplines involved, from multi-day races to elite level races over a period of weeks.

How does it work?

Adventure races are designed to test an athlete’s physical and mental endurance as well as skills in a number of disciplines which can include: kayaking, rock climbing, abseiling (rappelling), horse riding, whitewater rafting, mountaineering, skiing, in-line skating, and even paragliding.

As well as the various disciplines involved, some adventure races include tasks to be carried out at checkpoints. These tasks not only sap your physical strength but your mental strength too and are a test of your ability to still think clearly when physically exhausted.

Adventure racing and orienteering are often referred to as ‘thought sports’ and people often fail to realise that success depends on equal levels of both physical and mental fitness.

What is the appeal of adventure racing?

One of the biggest attractions for many competitors in adventure racing is the opportunity to test both physical and mental fitness to the extremes.

Adventure races usually involve a large amount of planning and tactics. The need to think on the move and make decisions when physically exhausted is something that appeals to adventure racers over other sports such as triathlon where you simply ‘get your head down and race’.

The adrenaline rush that comes from adventure racing is another reason why people are attracted to the sport.

Once you try adventure racing, the biggest kick of all will be discovering a whole side to yourself you never knew existed and you will amaze yourself at how much you can achieve.

Another great attraction about adventure racing is that competitors unable to succeed in a purely physical event such as cross-country running can equal, or even beat, physically stronger athletes through the use of their navigation skills, race planning and decision making.

Who can do adventure racing?

Almost anyone can try adventure racing - you don’t need any experience to get started. There is no stereotypical adventure racer, the events bring people from many different sports together and people of all ages and varying fitness levels can take part.

Where can you do adventure racing?

Events are held all over the world but are generally located in more mountainous/ rugged areas.

Due to the increasing popularity of adventure racing, and to make the sport accessible to more people, urban events have now evolved. Taking adventure racing from the jungle to the urban jungle; urban challenges can include mountain biking down concrete stair cases, crawling through pipes, climbing up buildings and in-line skating.

Are there any barriers to entry?

For insurance reasons most events will require entrants to be 18 or over, however, junior events do take place. There is no upper age limit for adventure races.

In terms of fitness levels, for entry level races you should get fit enough to:

  • Swim 0.5 miles (1km)
  • Mountain bike 12 miles (20km)
  • Run 3 miles (5km)

While physical fitness plays an important role in adventure racing, your mental fitness or ability to keep pushing yourself, is just as important.

How do you form an adventure racing team?  

If you decide to form an adventure racing team, most events have four-person teams with at least one female racer per team. A good tip is to form a training group larger than four people to ensure that you will always be able to field a full team on any given weekend (people won’t always be able to race due to work or family commitments or injuries.) There are also many websites dedicated to adventure racing where you can access calendars of forthcoming events and search for teams who are looking for people to join them.

How do you train for adventure racing?

Training is the key to succeeding in adventure racing, the more time you commit to training, the easier you will find events and the more successful you will be.

The amount of time you can commit to training will depend on you but here are some guidelines…

  • Hit the pool three times a week. Swimming is an excellent form of exercise; it increases your cardiovascular stamina without damaging your joints, like running does.
  • Practice your weakest discipline. Always focus your training on your weakest discipline whether it is cycling, kayaking or map reading as this will increase your chances of succeeding in a race.
  • Cycle or run to work if you can - cycling or running to work is an excellent way to get race fit and build in the training into your daily routine.
  • Don’t overtrain. Your body needs time to rest and recover and many athletes do more harm than good by overtraining. Plan a sensible training schedule allowing at least one full rest day per week and when starting out increase the duration and level of your training gradually as your fitness increases.

Do you have to do a course or train before adventure racing?

You certainly don’t need to spend time and money on a course to try adventure racing for the first time; after all you might decide it isn’t the sport for you. Entry level races involve short distance swim, bike and running sections. The only prior training you might need to undertake is for your navigation skills with a map and compass, but event organisers will ensure that entry level events are not too demanding on your navigation skills.  

If you decide to pursue adventure racing further, the sport involves an array of disciplines which you need to become proficient in if you are to have any chance of success - but pay particular attention to fine tuning your navigation skills as they will win or lose you a race.

Many companies host adventure racing camps or clinics — these are usually day or weekend courses where race experts will train you in the various aspects of racing from training and nutrition to planning a race as well as hands-on workshops on race skills such as bike handling or rope skills. Clinics usually end in a race in which you can put all your new skills to the test.

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