WHAT IS ADVENTURE RACING?
HOW TO GET STARTED IN ADVENTURE RACING
TRAINING FOR ADVENTURE RACING
ADVENTURE RACING GEAR
Need help finding a team?
The CMAART.org forum is the defacto team finder for Ambush Adventure Racing. Post a message there and you're bound to hook up in no time.
Adventure racing is a combination of two or more 'disciplines', including orienteering and navigation, cross-country running (trekking), mountain biking, paddling and climbing or related rope skills. An expedition event can span ten days or more while sprints can be completed in a matter of hours. Typically there is no 'dark period' during races, regardless of their length - the choice when (and if) to rest is left to the competitors. Adventure racing is classically a co-ed team sport. Nonetheless, many races now permit "teams" of 1 to 5 persons, single-sex or co-ed, and sometimes include age-based categories.
...there are so many different types of adventure races that trying to come up with a single definition that fits them all is not possible. Races can range in length from 3 hours to 3 days (or more!). Some races include long stretches of technical single track mountain biking, while others stick mainly to gravel or dirt 'fire roads'. In some races you'll need to carry all of your gear throughout the race and in others you return to a central 'transition area' where you can swap gear, change shoes and refuel. Some races simply give racers a list of checkpoint locations and say 'get there as best you can' while others give detailed directions and allow little navigational latitude.
A good way to get some idea of what it's all about is to check out Adventure Race Reports and read some of the stories written by actual competitors.
Well, you're pretty much doing that right now aren't you. The first step is to do a little research and the best place is online - there aren't too many books on the subject and many of them, while still addressing the fundamentals, are a little dated, focussing more on expeditions races like the now defunct EcoChallenge rather than the more currently popular shorter formats.
You don't need to be super-human to do an adventure race. Average people compete in these races and do well. Ambush Adventure Racing produces everything from 3 hour sprints to 3 day 'epics', so there's sure to be a place for you to start. ...and don't be intimidated by the length - many folks mistakenly compare adventure race durations to something like the marathon and wonder just how could someone go on for that long. Don't worry - except for the most elite, world-class racers, the pace is much, much slower and success comes just as much from racing smart and working as a team as it does from pure athleticism.
Something else to consider is that since an adventure race includes several different 'disciplines', it's not as if you're going to be running or biking for the whole thing. Many races are designed so that at just about the time you are really getting sick of paddling, and maybe getting a little blister on your thumb, it's time to change over to the bikes, and just about when bike seat starts getting really hard, it's time to get off and start a 8 mile trek. The mix of activities tends to even things out, so that even if you're not a very good mountain biker for example, you can make it up on the run.
The best advice is to jump right in! Find a partner or two, pick a race and go for it...sure, you'll probably make some mistakes, but in general, adventure racers are among the friendliest athletes you're ever going to meet, everyone was a newbie at one time or another and if you stay focussed on doing the best YOU can do, without worrying too much about where you finish, you'll be sure to have fun and learn what you need to do the next time. ...and the WILL be a next time - rarely have we seen a person come away from their first adventure race without already making plans for the second.
more than speed. Since even the shortest 'sprint' adventure races are at least about 3 hours long you're going to have to get your body used to moving at a deliberate pace for at least that long. You'll quickly notice that with the exception of the very top athletes, most teams are not really moving all that fast - especially at some of the longer multiday races. The key is to choose a pace that you can maintain for the expected duration of the race and then keep moving forward
Don't neglect the psychological component. Long endurance training develops the ability to work through the pain, and a key component to success in adventure racing is the ability to withstand discomfort, whether it be blistered feet, an icy downpour or a 3am forced march, so be sure to train in all conditions and keep pushing the outer limits of your comfort zone.
Probably the best part about training for an adventure race is that almost anything you can think of doing outside can be considered training if you approach it the right way - all you need to do is to turn up the intensity just a little bit. Going mountain biking? Try riding a little faster or a little further, or turn the workout into a 'skills session' and really nail those steep downhills or creek crossings. Going for a run? How about getting off the road or trail and running cross-country through the woods? Turn it into navigation practice by picking out a few spots on the map and trying to find them on the run. Or try something you've never done before...rappelling, rollerblading, archery or tree climbing - they've all turned up in an adventure race at one time or another and anything that gets you outdoors and moving is going to increase your skill and fitness level. And the more fun it is, the more chance that you will keep on doing it.
It's kind of funny to look into some adventure racers garages and see two different kayaks, three bikes, several backpacks and a half dozen pairs of shoes lined up by the door, as well as shelves full of who-knows-what, but the basic gear to get started in adventure racing is really quite simple.
First off, since almost every race involves some sort of off-road biking, you will need a mountain bike. It doesn't have to be a top of the line full-suspension, disc-brake, carbon fiber superbike, but it should be well made and well maintained. Look around and you may be able to pick up a good used bike for $200-$300 dollars. (Don't bother with a used helmet though - old helmets actually DO wear out and the styrofoam breaks down enough that it won't protect your head when (not if) you crash.)
Most folks compete in some type of trail running shoe and wear either lycra tights or nylon 'trekking' pants to protect their legs from brush when traveling cross-country. In general, synthetics are preferred to cotton clothes as cotton tends to stay very damp after it gets wet (either form perspiration or rain or brushing up against wet foliage)...and oh yeah - it chafes too. You'll find out all about chafing as soon as you get beyond the three hour mark.
You will need some type of small pack to carry your water and food and any required gear or extra clothes. There are many options available and most racers opt for some type of integrated 'hydration pack' such as a CamelBak.
Beyond that, each race requires different types of gear from map cases and compasses to bike repair tools and first aid kits. Be sure and check the pre-race info to make sure you have all of the required gear, both for your own safety, and because you can be penalized if you are stopped at a spot check and are missing something.