By Connellan Coxwell, veteran of the 12- and 6-hour All Out Adventure races
If you know anything about Adventure Racing you might think that it is a sport that absolutely requires the extreme endurance of ultra-marathoners, the outdoor skills of Bear Gryls, the gutsiness of X games athletes and some nerdy smarts for map reading and decision making. And, it is true that most of the athletes participating in Adventure Races possess these traits and they are absolutely superhuman.
However, Adventure Racing is truly a fun sport for regular people too. Believe me, if my team and I could tackle a 12 hour race over unknown terrain and have fun doing it, then just about anyone can. Skeptical, are you? What if I tell you that I am a 43 year old who only leisurely trail runs about 15 miles a week and who very occasionally mountain bikes and my team mates are two average 11 year olds?
What is our secret? We simply focus more on the adventure and less on the race. Spending hours at a time being active in the middle of nowhere is simply not going to happen in my regular schedule – but it is an awesome escape from the everyday routine. Entering a race gets us out there and enables us to stretch our comfort level.
Sound interesting? Here are a few tips for entering an Adventure Race:
Adventure races range from two and four hour races to five days and longer. I started with a four hour course, graduated to a six hour and then tip toed into a 12 hour race. I wish I had known it earlier, but any of these time frames are great and totally doable by anyone interested in doing them.
It literally took me two years of watching before I entered the 12 hour Dawn to Dusk race (with much support from race organizers at All Out Events) and I just wish I had done it sooner.
Don’t Worry About Training
First let me offer a disclaimer. I am NOT a doctor. I am NOT a fitness expert. I have absolutely NO authority beyond my own experiences.
But my own experience says that you shouldn’t put off entering races just because you haven’t trained. You probably do need to have a regular fitness regime of some sort, and be prepared to move for the race’s duration, but I wouldn’t worry about endurance or specialized training. Think of the race as just a long day outside and do what you can.
If you have ever spent the day skiing or hiking or chasing kids, then you will probably be fine so long as you stay nourished and hydrated throughout the race.
Don’t Worry About Expertise in the Disciplines
Adventure races usually combine mountain biking, trekking/trail running and kayaking. Before my first adventure race I had ridden my bike on trails maybe two or three times total – and had ended up upside down on one ride due to being overly cautious.
However, you don’t have to be good at something to get it done. And being in a race propelled my skills and interest forward way more than being out there on my own.
And the thing about adventure racing is that it seems intended to throw you for a loop. You are not supposed to be comfortable doing these things, the difficulty IS the point – and the fun!
Stay Hydrated and Nourished
In an adventure race, you do not want to get lost and you do not want to let your body run low on fuel. Eat and drink often.
A hydration pack (like a Camelback) makes drinking easy and gels or any kind of bar is efficient fuel.
I have read that some people are pretty scientific and precise about what they consume. We are neither, but we try to be consistent. We drink water constantly and we eat a bar or at least every hour or more often if we feel like a little boost. We chose a wide variety of bars and gels and enjoyed some more than others, but liked the variety.
With this regime (and a slow and steady approach), we have genuinely felt great throughout our races.
Don’t Be Last – You Don’t Have to Get Every Checkpoint
My team and I are MUCH slower than most anyone else – we move at a slow pace and take some time to swim or have fun along the way. However, we usually finish the race in the middle of the field (albeit nearly last in the standings).
One strategy my team has used is to liberally skip checkpoints. We skip whatever checkpoints necessary to keep us in the middle of the field. (Although we try to always find the fun or adventurous spots.) This means that we are less likely to get hopelessly lost and it is just way more fun to feel part of the event instead of slogging along in waaayyyy last. I see skipping checkpoints as handicapping – enabling everyone to play along on the same course.
Now, this year I do hope to be less timid and go for more checkpoints than we have in the past and that is one of the greatest things about this sport — there are so many different ways to improve: go faster, cover more distance, choose better routes, etc…
Worry a Little About Map Reading – Or Don’t
You do need to be able to read and follow a map. I love this aspect of adventure racing – it almost feels like you can tell the future, because you can predict what is coming up without ever having been there. Being able to identify topography and landmarks like power lines, watersheds, etc… on your map is important. Reading the map can help you identify alternate routes, but most importantly, the map reassures you that you are on the right track and it keeps you from getting lost.
However, I have not mastered real orienteering. I once took a class to try to learn about mapping coordinates and using a compass, but without practice it has not sunk in.
If you are required to map your coordinates, you will probably be able to find another team who you can copy from – adventure racers are incredibly nice.
Have Fun Being a Little Miserable
The only required trait I think that you need to have to enter an adventure race is being someone who likes a challenge and even has fun being a little – or a lot – miserable.
Getting from point A to B is not the hard part in Adventure Racing — depending on your fitness level you just trudge or trot forward. The hard part is that in an adventure race there will be challenges that will test your grit — grabbing a checkpoint in the middle of poison oak or a murky algae-covered ice cold pond, carrying and dragging a kayak over land for three miles, scaling a steep and sandy hillside or getting lost and retracing steps.
Sound terrible to you? Yes, it kind of is terrible… However, these feats are always perfectly doable and it is exactly these kind of experiences that give you stories, memories, bragging rights and a true feeling of adventure!
Go enter an Adventure Race and have fun!