Adventure Racing… What is it all about?
by: Team Capestorm WCAD Racing
Adventure racing can be defined as a non-stop, multi-day, multi-sport, mixed team event. In many ways it can be likened to an expedition with a stopwatch. An adventure race includes navigation using map and compass (no GPS), if there is a marked course to follow and no navigation is necessary then it is a multisport race. This is summed up by Don Mann and Kara Schaad in their book ‘The Complete Guide to Adventure Racing’ when they say “some maps you find in adventure racing are 20 years old or older. Some features may disappear while new ones take shape. Trails will change and new roads will alter the landscape. There are always going to be trails on your map that are no longer on the ground and there will always be trails that you find that are not on the map. It is important to check your compass periodically when taking trails1”.
Maps are only provided a short time before the start, decisions on how to get from one Check Point (CP) to another are left to each team, so the pressure is on to choose the best route. Instructions must be read, and on the ground obstacles may force changes to plans as you run and ride. As a result, actual decision making must happen under pressure during the race.
Adventure Races have many variations, some of which include:
- Sprint: short one day races lasting between 3 and 8 hours.
- 12/20 Hour race: more extended non-stop race.
- Multi-day: a 36-48+ hour race, involving advanced navigation and route choice; sleep deprivation becomes a significant factor.
- Expedition: Three to 11 day race (or longer), involving all the challenges of a multi-day race, but often with additional disciplines (e.g., horse-back riding, unusual paddling events, extensive mountaineering and rope work).
Races will include trail running, mountain biking, navigation and as the events get longer, even more disciplines can appear inclucing padding, rafting, tubing, abseiling and other forms of rope work to name just a few. This is not to say that any of these can’t appear in a sprint race, one of the best features of adventure racing is the unknown format of the event and the challenge of dealing with the unexpected!
Preparing for a race
There are some major elements to think about when preparing for your first race. This is not a science, however, and the experience will be different for everyone. Use this only as a guideline to create your own experiences and successful racing formula. Adventure racing is an ongoing learning process. Only the best teams in the world have got all of the details worked out and that came through years of trial and error. You won’t be able to nail all skills for adventure racing for your first race. In fact, you won’t really fly up the learning curve until you do your first race. So don’t expect to be an expert right away.
Selecting a team
Once you have decided to get into adventure racing, one of the first and most critical things to do is get together with the right team. You will be spending significant time with your teammates in very stressful situations, both during the race and in preparations leading up to it. Make sure you all have the same goals, similar physical ability and similar levels of commitment to the event. A mismatch in any of these opens the door for endless frustration for both sides. It is also a good idea to look for a good balance of personalities as well, although this is not critical. Most importantly, make sure you all get along and can enjoy each other’s company. Always remember, this is a team sport and you can only cross the finish line together. There will be times when you will need to help your teammates out and times when you will need help. Can you count on your teammates to help you and can they count on you?.
Teams will typically designate a lead navigator, this is not to say that all team members don’t have a responsibility to understand where they are, the course they are following and navigational objectives they are looking for.
Determining your team’s roles, goals and expectations of each other before the start will save much grief and anguish during the race.
How seriously you and your team plan to take each race and how competitive you want to be are details that must be discussed before the race day (in fact, they should be discussed when you are putting together the team). To put it bluntly, since you must race together at all times, the success of the team is reduced to the lowest common denominator. If one of your teammates is not willing to commit to being competitive then your team will not be competitive. Make sure you have agreed in advance what your goals and commitment levels will be.
The best form of physical training for any race is to simulate the different elements of the race you are doing. If the race includes long sections of hiking with a pack or hill/mountain climbing, make sure you include that in your training. Your feet may be tough enough for an hour run, but wait till you see what happens to them after a four hour hike, with an extra 10kg’s on your back. In the weeks leading up to a race, it is best to do most of your training with a pack. It’s also important to do some of your longer training with your teammates. It’s not just your body that goes soft after long stretches. Make sure you know how each of your teammates reacts to fatigue. Arguments can end races.
Choosing the right gear for a race is an endless process. We don’t know of anyone that has found the ideal gear for all races. Everyone is always looking for newer, lighter, more efficient technology. This is definitely one of the more challenging parts of preparation and has been the source of many long meetings for our teams. Although almost all races will provide you with a minimum equipment list, it is nothing more than that – the absolute minimum required to compete. You will probably need more than that. If possible, talk to people who have raced before to get a feel for what will suit you best. Just asking people in an outdoor store, or people unfamiliar with adventure racing, may not be so valuable. Make sure you also understand the climate, terrain and weather for the location of your race. This will play a big role in your equipment decisions. As a general rule, lightest and simplest to use is best. The more serious you are about the race, the more important this becomes and the more expensive it seems to get.
The rules of adventure racing vary by race. However, virtually all races include the three cardinal rules of racing:
- No motorized travel;
- No GPS
- Teams must travel together the entire race, usually within 50 meters of each other
- No outside assistance except at designated transition areas (assistance from competing teams is generally permitted at all times); and
- Teams must carry all mandatory gear.
What to eat during the race and in training is a very difficult subject. There are many very different schools of thought on the subject, although there are a few basic rules that most people will agree on. First, count on burning more than 6,000 calories a day (for non-stop races). Second, the best foods are those with the highest calories per pound you must carry. Finally, make sure you like the taste of the foods you are bringing. It is not easy to force down 6,000 calories of food you don’t like. As for the specific foods to bring and the best source of calories (fat, protein, carbs), there are many different answers. Some racers believe large amounts of carbohydrates is best (Powerbars, gels and sugars). Many others, however, believe fats are the right answer since the vast majority of any long race will be spent in your fat burning zone. Everyone is different. Experiment with many different things in your training to see what works best for you. Most nutritionists would faint if they saw someone eat a 100g of butter wrapped in a pita but it seems to work for some of the best teams.
Adventure racing gives participants the chance to challenge themselves, to find their limits and push through them. Racing often takes participants out of their comfort zone by challenging them with unfamiliar surroundings, physical and mental challenges and weather conditions, often while sleep deprived and physically exhausted. How you react to this as an individual and as part of the team by supporting and helping your team mates will greatly affect your whole experience of the race.