Fitness benefits of adventure racing

How adventure racing can get you fit and healthy

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 with various health and fitness benefits.

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, racing from dusk ‘til dawn!

Races are designed to test an athletes’ 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 realize that success depends on equal levels of both physical and mental fitness.

What’s the buzz about adventure racing?
One of the biggest attractions for many competitors in adventure racing is the opportunity to push and 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’.

Of course one thing that gives everyone a buzz is adrenalin! If you’re an adrenalin junkie then adventure racing is for you, zipping down a rope, racing on skis or down whitewater rapids … what a rush!

Once you try adventure racing, the biggest kick of all will be discovering a whole side to yourself you never even 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 have a go at adventure racing! The mere fact that you are reading this article means that something has roused your curiosity, drawing you to the challenge of adventure racing.

You don’t need any experience to get started. World Champion racer Cathy Sassin had never even sat on a mountain bike, held a compass or touched a kayak before entering her first race … just watching an event on TV one day sparked an immense passion in her to give it a go … and so can you!

Where can you do adventure racing?
Events are held all over the country but generally located in more mountainous or rugged areas, as well as events all over the world.

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!

What is adventure racing like?
Words simply cannot describe the mixture and extremes of physical and emotional highs and lows you will experience during a race. At times you really will feel like you simply can’t go on until yourself or a team-mate pushes you on to continue the challenge.

At other times the pleasure is indescribable as you realize you can push yourself further than had thought. A combination of stamina, skill, mental toughness and drive will determine if you make it to that next check point or ultimately to the finish line!

Are there any barriers to entry in terms of age or fitness etc?
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 and I have been overtaken by many senior racers!

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.

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 in 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 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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