Adventure Racing (AR) today is comprised of three main disciplines, kayaking, mountain biking, and trekking (walking, hiking, running). Most of these activities are done on trails, lakes, and sometimes on rivers and oceans. Basically, it sounds like a wilderness triathlon without the swimming, right? Not really. What sets AR apart is the team aspect and the lack of a marked or set course. Combining individual strengths with navigational skills will get a team to the finish line.
Yes, adventure racing is a team sport. Teams can be two, three and four person. Coed teams are always encouraged and mandatory in many races. Every teammate is expected to do all the race disciplines and the team must stay together at all times. That means that a team with an elite kayaker, strong cyclist and a fast runner may not necessarily be the fastest team. The individual strengths need to be shared throughout the race. For example, the runner my carry most of the team gear (team food, clothing, and stuff) during the run section, while the cyclist will take on the most load during the ride. Additionally, tow lines may be employed during a race so stronger teammates can help weaker or fatigued team members. Tow lines, usually consisting of a bungee cord with a clip on each end for the trek sections or a small dog leash attached to the seat post of a bike for the biking sections, are connected between teammates or teammates' bikes so that one person can "tow" the other. Sounds strange but it is a very effective technique.
How important is navigation?
Adventure races have a starting point and a finish line. A short time before the race start, the race organizer provides a course map which includes various checkpoints (CP) that the teams must reach before the finish line. Part of the “adventure” in adventure racing is not knowing the course ahead of time. The route to reach a CP is not specified. Teams will have to decide on the best route based on the team’s strengths and abilities. A race passport is used to register a teams arrival at a CP.
How long is each discipline?
Mountain biking is 60% of the race
Trekking is 30% of the race
Kayaking is 10% of the race Of course, these percentages may change depending on the location of a race
What races are out there for me?
The 4 hour sprint - This race distance is considered the entry level for adventure racing. With the percentages I discussed earlier, you can expect to be riding for 1.5 hours, trekking for an hour, and kayaking for 30 minutes. Faster teams are able to finish in 2 hours, while new adventure athletes will take the full 4 hours. In general the order of the disciplines is mandated by the race organizer. Basic navigation skills are required
The 6-12 hour adventure race – This race distance is what I consider the “Olympic” distance of adventure racing. In general, you will be biking for 3+ hours, trekking for 2+ hours and then kayaking for 1+ hours. Keep in mind that the order of the events is not known until 30 minutes before the race start. In some cases, the order is determined by the team and not by the race organizer. Strong navigation skills are critical to the completion of this event.
The 24 hour adventure race - Like the Marathon for runners and the century for biking, the 24 hour adventure race seems to be the defining distance for the extreme athlete. Racers can expect 12+ hours of mountain biking, 6+ hours of trekking and 4+ hours of kayaking. More than physical strength and endurance are required for this type of race; athletes must contend with cold night temperatures, sleep deprivation, equipment failure and manage food intake for nutrition and good digestion.
Expedition adventure racing – This is a general term to describe multi-day racing. 48 hours, 3 day, 5 day, 10 day, and more are available in this category of racing. Desert crossings, mountain ascents, and whitewater rafting are just some of the exotic activities waiting for expedition athletes.
The adventure racing season
Racing begins in April and usually continues until November. There are opportunities to race locally and also travel to other states and countries.
How do you get started?
Find a team mate: someone you will train and race with. If you are a mountain biker or a runner try to convince one of your regular sport buddies to give adventure racing a go. If you are not into any sport groups then just ask a friend and family member. By all means, try to find someone with a similar level (fitness and/or skill) and with a similar schedule. You want to be able to train with this person at least twice a month before trying your first adventure racing event.
Register on website. Registering gives you access to an athlete profile page where you can detail your AR experience and goals. In addition, we use your ZIP code to map your profile on our google map amongst all other registered members. This will allow you to see who is racing in your area and send them private messages to coordinate workouts and other activities
Join entry level events. Check the calendar and look for entry level events (4 hours). These events are a great way to meet with the community, meet people and gather information.
Join a skill clinic. Adventure racing doesn't require hyper-specialized skills in order to perform well, but you will need to have a good foundation in navigation, kayaking, and mountain biking. If you are relatively new to the sport we are strongly advising you to take a clinic as soon as possible.
Mountain biking: A mountain biking skill clinic will drastically reduce your chance of having an injury or an accident. Try to find a mountain biking skills clinic in your area to learn the basics of mountain biking. You can learn the fundamentals of trail riding here on california-ara.com (check the complete mountain biking skills guide).
kayaking: Learning to paddle properly is necessary or you will not last more than 30 minutes before your arms are too soar to continue. We strongly encourage you to take a self rescue clinic so you can get back in your boat if you fall in the water (note that most 4 hours races use seat-on-top boats so their is no issues with capsizing, in this case the self-rescue clinic isn't necessary).
Navigation: Reading a map and knowing where you are and where to go is a life-skill and a very important component of adventure racing. You can learn the essential of navigation online (check our navigation section) but joining a clinic will teach you the specifics of race navigation.
Ask us questions. If you need help, contact California-ara. We can help answer your questions, find teammates, and help you pick the best races.