What Exactly IS Adventure Racing?


Adventure Racing is one of my passions! But what exactly is Adventure Racing? The easiest way to describe it is that it is like an off road triathlon. There is trail running, mountain biking  paddling, and orienteering. A typical adventure race can be anything from three hours to many days. I race in the 3-12 hour races, so I will focus on them.

Each adventure Race has it’s own thing, but I will describe them with generalities. Typically you cannot check in until your whole team is there. Teams can be anything from solo to 4 person teams. For prizes, you will usually see categories for all female, all male, and co-ed and then they are broken down into solo, two person, etc. All female teams have a good chance of placing as there are usually very few teams in each category. The co-ed and all male are very competitive. When you check in, you will receive your race bibs,  maps, and rules of travel. Sometimes you will get your passports, but often you will not get them until after the prologue (more on that later). There is no designated course for adventure racing. You are given a map that has check points on it. Your goal is to get as may check points as possible in the allotted time. You will have about an hour or so to come up with your plan for the race. The Rules of Travel will play a part in that. The RoT tell you the mode to which you must get the check points (foot, bike or paddle). It will also specify if you must get check points in order or if it is OK to get them in any order, if you need to get a compliment of check points or just one. It will also indicate any mandatory check points and transition areas. Strategy plays a key role in being successful. Some teams know that they will be able to get all of the check points or “clear the course”, while other teams (like anyone racing with me) will know that they will try to get as many as possible and still cross the finish line on time. If you know that you will struggle getting all of the check points, then knowing your team weaknesses will help (if you are not strong on the bike, then spend more time trekking or on the water). Prior to the race, you will need to put your bike in the transition area as well as any gear that you might need during the race. There will be a race briefing in the hour before the race. They will go over all of the information that you will need in addition to answering any questions you might have. After that, you might have 10-15 minutes to get all of your last minute stuff together before the race starts.

At the briefing, they will let you know if there is a prologue. Usually the prologue is a short run (for about .5-1 mile), but I have also had mini orienteering quest, math questions, or other challenges. The prologue is designed to spread out the teams so that everyone doesn’t follow each other from point to point. Many times, once you complete the prologue, you receive your passport. A passport is a piece of paper that you use to document each checkpoint you have found. Sometimes you will get an e-reader (electronic “punch”) that documents everything “real time”. Either way, this is NOT something you want to lose, or leave behind at the transition area and not realize it until you are miles away looking for it to check in on the first bike point (not that I would EVER do that!). Once they start the clock, you have the designated amount of time to get as many check points as possible (three, six, eight hours). The winners are the teams that have the most check points at the end. If two teams complete the course and team one has 24 checkpoints and finished in 5 hours and 24 minutes and team two has 27 checkpoints and finished in 5 hours and 55 minutes, team two wins. If both teams have 26 check points, the team that finished faster wins. The neat thing is that you really don’t know until the end. Teams may pass you, but you never really know if they got as many checkpoints as you did. You can expect to cover anywhere from 15-50 miles depending on the length of the race

I just want to note, for the record, that I suck at Adventure Racing. I am slow, sometimes not so good at navigation, and say many bad words during the race. On the other hand, I have so much fun! People that race with me know that we are there to have fun. Many people think that you have to be super fit to do a six hour race, but you really don’t. If you are relatively active and can ride a bike, then you can do an adventure race. You would be surprised at what you can do! 

There are several companies in the MD, VA, PA and DE area that put on some great races. EX2Adventure EnablersAdventure AddictsRootstock Racing, and Broad Run Off Road. There is a great website that has information on Adventure Racing. . Check our the Adventure Racing Cooperative. Woman of AR is a great Facebook group for woman. I have found it to be a valuable resource and have made many friends there. 

Stay tuned for future articles on Adventure Racing that will feature specific races, gear, and other help