The skills required for adventure racing

Complement your running with adventure racing

Running is central to adventure racing, so if you are already a runner then you are several steps ahead of the competition already. If you’re considering getting into adventure racing, then read on and get the lowdown from a runner's perspective.

As a runner you will have a head start in your adventure racing preparation because your cardiovascular (CV) system is in good shape and you'll be used to load bearing exercise where you support your own bodyweight, unlike people who take part in many other disciplines. The challenge now is to start including some different sports and skills into your training program to complement your running.

This guide looks at some of the sports and skills that may be required when participating in an adventure race, including:

  • Strength training
  • Biking
  • Swimming
  • Kayaking, canoeing and sailing
  • Navigation and map reading
  • Climbing and rope work
  • Nutrition and hydration
  • Teamwork

Strength training

Why strength training?

If you have been running for a consistent period of time, you will have a good CV system, but your upper body strength may be lacking. Many of the disciplines in adventure racing require upper body strength — you are often required to carry a backpack or equipment during each race — so it is advantageous to focus on good upper body strength if you wish to become a good all-round athlete and successful adventure racer.  

How do you strength train?

Build a regime of upper body exercises into your training program so that you improve your strength for racing sections such as kayaking, swimming and rope work. Focus on the entire upper body — not just the arms — and build up to two resistance training sessions each week.


Why biking?

Biking features heavily in adventure races and is usually off-road. With your good CV system from running, biking will be fairly straightforward. It is just the technical skills of biking that you need to pick up.

How to bike train?

Substitute one of your weekly runs for an off-road bike session. Choose routes that will build your technical skills for climbing and descending on uneven terrain, together with route-finding while on two wheels. By maintaining the intensity you will also get a good quality CV workout — which will help to maintain your running-specific fitness.


Why swimming?

Your race may involve crossing a river or collecting objects suspended above water, so being confident around water is a must.

How to swim train?

If your swimming is weak, then you'll need to improve it. If your swimming is okay then refining your technique will help. Because adventure racing takes place outdoors, it is best to seek out opportunities to practice open water swimming, because it is very different to doing standard lengths in a swimming pool.

Kayaking, canoeing and sailing

Why kayaking, canoeing and sailing?

A water-based discipline such as kayaking or other is commonplace in an adventure race. Learning how to handle a canoe or boat is a specialist skill and requires specialist training.

How to train for kayaking, canoeing and sailing?

Seek out professional advice for learning water-based sports. The best way to learn is through a club where you can practise as necessary to keep your skills fresh.

Navigation and map reading

Why navigation and map reading skill?

Every adventure race will involve getting from point to point, with several more inbetween. You will have to navigate cross-country with only a map and compass for guidance, so good map reading skills will be a real plus.

How to learn navigation and map reading skills?

You could head out and try orienteering which will enabled you to practice your compass skills while giving you a good workout too. If you want to take things a stage further, there are adventure centres that run one or two-day courses.

Climbing and rope work

Why climbing and rope work?

Finding navigation clues at the bottom of a gorge, traversing a fast-running stream, ascending steep crags; anything is possible in an adventure race. Rope work and climbing involve specialist skills, so you'll need to have instruction in such matters.  

How to train for climbing and rope work?

Specialist adventure courses are available or you could practice rope-based skills at an indoor climbing facility.

Nutrition and hydration

Why is nutrition and hydration important?

Adventure races are usually extended events, frequently run over a weekend or even longer. Your nutritional requirements will therefore be very different to those for a running event which may be just a few hours at most.

How can you practise your nutritional strategy?

Practise drinking and eating while on the move, so that you get used to exercising with food in your stomach. Also, experiment with different foods so that you find out what suits you best. Sports drinks and energy bars are a good addition.


Why is teamwork important?

Adventure racing is usually a team event in which teamwork is key. All members of the team will have different skills and strengths, so it is important to balance those skills and strengths in order to get the most out of your team.

How do you work on teamwork?

Good team spirit is essential, so it is vital to do some of your training with your team to get the team ethic going. Training together help the team learn about each other’s strengths. Organise some team event away from training to help members bond together.

Adventure racing as a runner

With your sound running base, you are in a decent position to do well in adventure racing, and once you have added some of the skills above, you'll do even better. Many of these skills are ones that once you get to grips with, they remain with you forever. Taking part in adventure racing will broaden your horizons and bring a new dimension to your fitness training, so go out and give it a go.

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