Get Tough: Start Adventure Racing

Published on 11/14/2012

By Katie Levy

Adventure Racing

If running around the woods, mountain biking in all types of terrain, and paddling around in search of a small orange orienteering flag (or similar hard-to-find marker) sounds like fun, adventure racing might just be your sport. You don’t have to be an extreme athlete or travel to remote corners of the world to find a challenging multi-sport race, and if you’re thinking about entering your first adventure race, here’s a list of things you’ll want to keep in mind.


Know The Race

Muddy race

There are four main types of adventure races: sprint, 12-hour, 24-hour and expedition races. Most sprints only involve biking, paddling and hiking while expedition races involve additional challenges with the added bonus of sleep deprivation. Sprint races can last between three and six hours while single-day races might run between ten and 24 hours. Beginners should consider sprint races first; they’re generally the least complicated and the least involved. Visit the USARA website to find clubs and races in your area.


Get The Gear

Cannondale 29er Trail

Most races have a list of mandatory gear including a first aid kit, whistle, map holder, bike repair kit, pen and knife. But there’s personal gear involved too, and picking the right stuff is essential. If you’re doing a race that involves mountain biking, get a bike that fits well and can help you tackle a variety of terrain. A great bike to start with is one like the Cannondale Trail 29er 5 for men or the Trail 5 for women. Make a chain break tool one of your essentials, and, of course, a helmet. Some racers use running belts for the foot section; they’re more comfortable to run with than a backpack, but make sure all your required gear fits in it. Also, get yourself a solid pair of trail kicks like the Brooks PureGrit or Salomon Speedcross 3 shoes.


Perfect Your Layering System

Layer System

Layering for a sprint race is less complicated than one-day and expedition races, but it’s essential for all race types. Temperatures can change significantly throughout the day, so make sure you have a solid pair of tights or pants, like the Marmot Trail Breeze Tights for women or the Patagonia Traverse Pants for men, and a wicking, breathable shirt like the Columbia Anytime Active Long Sleeved Top for women or Arc'teryx Motus Long-Sleeve Crew for men. Of course, long or short sleeves will depend on the time of year, but when you’re bushwhacking through the woods in search of a checkpoint, sleeves and tights will keep your skin protected. Make sure that the outfit you choose is one you’re comfortable biking, running and paddling in; there won’t be time to change.


Build A Team

Adventure Team

One of the coolest things about adventure racing is the fact that your team has to stick together at all times. Most race directors will set strict limits on how far apart teammates can be, and in some cases, that distance is less than 25 meters. The need for true teamwork means all racers need to choose their teammates carefully. Be sure you’re all at the same general skill level, but more importantly, that all teammates have the same ultimate goal. If you’ve got one person on the team who really wants to race while the other two would prefer a more casual approach, things aren’t going to go well. But remember, always strive to be the kind of teammate you’d want to race with.


Train Hard & Read Maps


Just like a triathlon or other mutli-disciplinary races, being well-trained and having an endurance base is crucial to success in adventure racing. The California Adventure Racing Association has a great set of training plans to get you started. If you’re a beginner, look for adventure racing clinics in your area. Unlike a triathlon, though, a key piece of adventure racing is navigation. Getting lost or making navigational errors can cost teams significant time, so take the time to learn map reading skills. Though GPS devices aren’t allowed in most adventure races, but using a watch like the Suunto Vector or Suunto Core during training can help you keep track of training time and transitions. Practice setting up your transition area, then transitioning from different disciplines as fast as you can.

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