What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say “Adventure Racing”? If you don’t have a clue what adventure racing is, that’s ok: keep reading. For those who know but haven’t tried it yet, your perception of the sport might come from TV and you’re likely thinking things like:
10 day non-stop suffer-fest with no sleep
hardcore world-class extreme athletes
mountains of exotic gear
My purpose here is to shed light on some of the common misconceptions and myths about adventure racing. It is a much more accessible sport than most people think.
What is an Adventure Race?
A brief explanation of adventure racing is in order so that we’re all on the same page. All adventure races are not 5-10 day non-stop jungle expeditions like Eco-Challenge. In fact, the vast majority of races are 4-8 hours long, comparable to an Olympic or half-Ironman distance triathlon. The disciplines involved are usually mountain biking, trail-running/trekking, and some form of paddling. The twists are that you usually compete in teams of 2-4 (teams must stay together – it’s not a relay), it’s mostly off-road, and the course isn’t marked so you need to pick your own routes between checkpoints using a map, race instructions, and a compass.
Myth #1: I have to be an elite athlete.
A “sprint” race is 4-8 hours?!? You’ve got be an elite endurance athlete in order to do that, right? Wrong. The people who WIN triathlons are elite athletes, but the vast majority who successfully finish are definitely in the rookie or weekend warrior class. Adventure racing is very much the same. Because of the team element, navigation, and off-road nature of the races, the average distance, speed and intensity are much lower than you’d expect.
If you can go for a 4-hour hike then you can likely finish one of these. In 2009 a 9-year-old girl completed her first sprint adventure race with her dad: they finished 7th out of 32 t eams in 4.5 hours.
Myth #2: I need mountains of gear.
This is true only of expedition races because they’re, well, expeditions. For entry-level adventure racing all you need is a basic mountain bike with a helmet, a backpack, a compass, a basic 1st aid kit, and some trail shoes. It’s probably cheaper to get basic gear f or sprint adventure racing than for triathlons.
Myth #3: I need all sorts of hardcore skills.
You don’t need to be an extreme white-water-running, rock-climbing daredevil with a GPS for a brain. Very basic map and compass skills will get you through most sprint adventure races. An evening with your local orienteering club - or a good book or website for that matter - will have you ready to go. Also, some events will offer navigation clinics for rookies before the race.
The ropes elements are usually found only in the longer races, but even then it’s basic zip-lines, rappelling and ascending. These are skills that you can learn in a couple of weekends at your local climbing gym, and there are always professional climbing instructors running the ropes at these races to ensure racer safety. Furthermore, most races will have an alternate route for teams that opt out of doing the ropes disciplines.
Paddling is almost always in canoes or kayaks that are provided by the race organizers and included in the entry fee. It will almost always be limited to flat water or slowly moving rivers. Any significant rapids will be well marked and will have portage routes around them. If there is big white-water paddling, then it will be with a rafting company w ith a guide, so it’s a chance to have some more fun.
Myth #4: It’s massively expensive.
There is no doubt that the big expeditions are generally pricey, but again the majority of races are surprisingly affordable if you break them down. Let’s compare entry fees per person. Triathlons range from about $65 for Sprint, $80 for Olympic, and $500-$800 for Ironman races, which covers the range of 2-15 hours of racing. Most 8-hr sprint adventure races are $80-$120/person, with 14-hr sprints still coming in at <$200/person.
Now that nothing’s in your way, what are you waiting for? It’s a fun and exciting way to get wet and muddy in the great outdoors with some friends. See you out there!