What is Adventure Racing?

I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading and researching as the Funtastics Adventure Racing Team gears up for Big Blue, and here are some of the things I’ve found. I hope this helps some of the “newbies” get a feel for what’s going on, and makes them feel that yes, they can do it!

Basically, it’s a multisport “adventure” comprised of some sort of water trek (often kayaking), a mountain bike trek on various surfaces, and a running trek on various surfaces. There are also “surprise” challenges, such as ropes courses, mud crawls, puzzles, etc, that you must negotiate when you find them.

Ah… finding them… THAT is the real secret of AR! If you noticed the use of the word “trek” above, then you have your first clue. Except for the shortest “sprint” races, in AR, you never actually know where you’re going! The courses are set up with orienteering-type waypoints that you have to find using maps, compasses and your common sense… by the way, no GPS allowed! It’s what provides such a great mental challenge as well as physical one.

One of the “cool” things about AR is that it is NOT a “fair weather” sport… as a matter of fact, the uglier the weather and the terrain, the more most AR’ers like it! This doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate the sunny, calm, cool days, as we certainly do, but rather, that you don’t let the lack of same interfere with your workouts. You just get out and do what you’re going to do.

What to do? One of the neatest things about AR so far is that you’re never bored, and there’s never a shortage of things to do. You can bike, you can run, you can paddle, you can rope climb, you can trek, you can skate… almost anything and everything can help you with an AR race. Your workouts can include any number of these things in any volume you want, and that is one of the most exciting things about it. Drive to the state park, kayak an hour, ride your bike an hour, run an hour… good to go!

Another of the other “best” things about AR is that it’s a team sport, and doing anything with a group gives you a huge boost in motivation! Even though many of our team-members live far away from “team headquarters” here in Coeur d’ Alene, knowing that everyone is training, everyone is aiming at the same goal and no one wants to be the “weak link” really helps you get your carcass off the couch, especially on those days when you don’t want to… one of our team mottos is (or should be!) “A professional is someone who does their best work on days they don’t feel like working.”

Having this blog is great, as we get to see what everyone is doing, and, in many respects, it has brought our team-mambers closer together, as we talk more, IM more, email more about what we did, what we learned, and where we’re at in the process… we’re all in this together, after all!

I think, without fail, that the “Founding FARTS” would agree that committing to doing this race has been one of the best things they have ever done for their own fitness, attitude and motivation. Some of us have lost as many as 30 pounds, just having a goal to work for, and people to do it with. It’s possible that there’s a little bit of a competitive streak in some of us that helps give that extra push when you need it, too.

Buying, using and having gear is fun! Being equipped for AR means being equipped for basically anything. It’s a lot like shopping for school supplies, but more expensive. The “big ticket” items are your bike (mandatory) and maybe a kayak, though you can rent or borrow, in lots of cases. After that, it’s all the fun little things, like cool clothes for different weather conditions, headlamps, good shoes, backpacks, water bottles, compasses, climbing harnesses, map holders, etc. There’s no end to the gadgets you can buy, but so far, the key ones are… socks. Clean, dry, socks. Add in a windproof, waterproof jacket and a couple of Under Armor shirts and you can go a long way.

One of the other cool things is learning stuff. Boning up on my all-but-forgotten navigation skills, learning about hydration, food, strategy, rope skills, paddling techniques, and on and on… the list goes on, and I’m not sure you’ll ever get to the end of the things you can learn, and this makes it a huge intellectual turn on.

Another top item is that you don’t have to kill yourself in your workouts to get fit and get better. A lot of the race is done at an aerobic pace: slow and steady, rather than frenetic and fast. You can certainly work hard, but the goal is to be able to work for 4,5,6, or even 12 or 24 hours straight. To do this, you’re way more interested in steady and slow, than max output. Of course, since this also helps with fat loss, hey, it’s good by me! The other aspect of this is that since the activities are so varied, our workouts are varied, as mentioned above, and even include “in-gym” circuit workouts to build strength and flexibility, which have been drawing more and more people. I know that some of our folks have included yoga, power bar and ball workouts, skating, hockey, hiking and more, and we’ve enjoyed lots of the cross-training.

Do you need to be an expert? Not at all! You don’t really need to have any skills, except a willingness to try stuff, and a good attitude about doing it… it is way more important to keep going and finish, rather than racing to always be number one… complaining/whining are a couple of the few “negative” traits that disappear in a hurry, and learning to smile and ask for spot is not only okay, it’s encouraged… in an AR race, you’re only as fast as your slowest team-member, so everyone benefits from encouraging and assisting the others to be their best as well. We love having new folks join us… don’t worry, you don’t have to be super-fit to start… you just have to start!

In all, I’d have to say that AR is the most enjoyable, stimulating activity I have ever tried. You are never bored, and the challenges and triumphs as you go a little further, a little faster, a little higher never end. If you are lucky enough to have been “invited” to join an AR team, don’t wait any longer! Say “yes,” get going, and change your life!

Okay… now you’re in… what are the actual races like?

There are LOTS of different races, supported (where you have a team of supporters etc) or unsupported, where you have to carry everything with you, but most fall in to one of the following categories:

The “Sprint” races:

2 -4 hour races: These are the races that virtually anyone can do, and they often have marked courses, eliminating the need to oreienteer. These are the equivalent of “fun runs,” and are great to get people involved in AR in a fun, non-challenging way. They include a short kayak or raft paddle (1 – 2 miles, often inflatable kayaks provided) an 8 – 10 mile mountainbike ride and a 3 – 5 mile run with a “fun” surprise obstacle thrown in.

6 – 12 hour races: The first serious race, but still done at a pretty frenetic pace. Usually about an 8 mile paddle, a 25 mile bike and a 5 – 8 mile run, incorporating trekking in one, two or possibly all of the legs. More, but still a minimal amount of gear required. You’ll need a good bike, great shoes, and lots of pairs of good socks. Depending on the weather and challenges, you may also need colder weather gear, climbing gear, as well as the requisite hats, gloves, backpacks, hydration systems etc, but for the shorter races, you don’t need as much food or water.

Many races also stipulate that individual racers or teams MUST have certain minimum amounts of equipmentwith them… after all, remember that these are “Adventure” races, and many of them are out in the boonies… the back 40, so to speak, and there is always a chance of injury, illness, falling off a cliff, etc. These are not (with the exception of the 2 – 4 hour races) carefully controlled, supervised events… they are wild, rugged tests, where being lost is more the norm than the exception. Better safe than sorry is a good plan.

Mid-length races:

24 – 48 hour races: The first “real” AR challenge in the true sense of the word. You know you’re going to be going overnight, you’re going to be hungry, tired, thirsty and challenged mentally and physically, and you need a bunch more gear, especially in the unsupported races. This requires a “quantum leap” in gear, training and motivation, and is the ultimate goal of many AR racers, especially after they try a short race, but haven’t felt they were pushed to their limits. For some reason, many ARers want to find out how far they can go.

Expedition races:

3 to 5 day races: These are for serious racers. These races are all about nutrition, sleep deprivation and will power, as well as being able to read a map. Running really fast in the wrong direction is a bad thing. In these races, you also start getting the wild challenges, such as mountaineering, white water swimming and kayaking, river crossing, horse back riding etc. Your skills need to really need to improve, and many races require that you have actual certifications to participate. These races are almost all supported, meaning your “crew” can meet you at the various checkpoints with food, clothing, new gear etc.

“Quest” races:  These are the ultimate tests in AR, and can be as long as 10 days and 600 miles long! They include Primal Quest, Eco-Challenge, the Southern Traverse, the Raid Galouises, the upcoming new Terra Traverse and others, and take the racers above and beyond their abilities. The stories of these races are amazing and chilling at the same time.

There are races to suit anyone’s interests and abilities, so get up, get out and get going!


1 Comment

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One response to “What is Adventure Racing?

  1. rickmccharles

    team-mambers … ???

    All this AR terminology.

    Ah, I got it. Female team-members.


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