Articles Doug Theis on 10 Jan 2002 06:32 am
In the few years that I’ve been involved with Adventure Racing (AR), the people I’ve talked to about it respond in three general ways:
1. “Are you crazy?”
2. “That sounds really cool, but it’s not for me.”
3. “I’m gonna try that!”
If you’re in the third group, here’s some advice from a middle-of-the-packer who loves to race:
In my experience, AR is the definition of a team sport. Before I tried AR, I was on a high school state soccer championship team, and I thought that was the ultimate in team sports. But being on an AR team of three or four members and the closeness that results can take you through the highest highs, the lowest lows, the lactic acid, the bloody elbows, and the demons at night. When one is weak, another is strong. Make sure your individual goals are in alignment. Designate a captain as a tie-breaker for issues that come up during the race. Find team members that you love and you’ll have the time of your life.
It’s easy to underestimate the difficulty of a race. An eight hour race can beat you up worse than a 24 hour race. One tough leg of a race can leave you weak and whiny for the next leg, even if it’s your best discipline. Midnight to dawn will bring you everything from doubt about your judgment to hallucinations. A warm fire at a checkpoint will make you believe that quitting is the right thing to do. Ten minutes of sleep can solve all your problems. One of my mentors in this sport says that when he’s struggling, he thinks of his grandmother who battled cancer and the pain she bravely endured each day. He also thinks of Lewis and Clark and the hardships they endured. His mantra is “I’m a little uncomfortable now, but I’ll be better soon.”
Train slower and longer than you’re used to. I say that as a ten-year pavement runner who races with old running buddies. You’re better off training for four hours at 70% than training for 90 minutes at 90%. Train with your teammates whenever possible and try to do a couple of disciplines each time out. Do an all night hike so you know what to expect. Laugh and have fun. If it’s all business you’re either an elite team or a terribly dull person.
Land navigation is a key element that many teams overlook. It usually costs you dearly in a race. Join your local orienteering club and figure out how to find your way out of the woods. Buy a quality compass. Buy USGS maps, Forestry Service maps, and Trail maps of the race area and study them before the race. Take care of your maps and your race passport (your proof of what you’ve completed) during the race; you can end a race early with one wet map or lost race passport.
Train in all of your race disciplines; running/hiking, biking, paddling, and ropes are the most common. Get some videos or take a class to have some head knowledge about the finer skills in each discipline.
AR is an equipment intensive and therefore expensive hobby. Expect to spend a lot on entry fees and equipment. The good news is that the more you race, the more equipment you can reuse. Borrow as much as you can without alienating your friends. Seek sponsorship from friends and family. Selling team T-shirts with advertising is a great way to subsidize the cost of a race. Support a local charity to share the benefit of your sponsors’ generosity. When the race gets overwhelming, just remember for whom you’re racing.
If you’re thinking about whom you’re competing against, you’re concentrating on the wrong thing. You’re racing against the course and your own mind and body. If you’re lucky enough to have the right teammates, they’ll carry you through the parts that your mind, your body, and the course will make you believe you cannot do.
Find people who’ve raced and listen to them. The little things they say will tell you a great deal about what matters while you’re racing.
Many races allow you to have a crew to carry your gear between transition areas. If you’re lucky enough to find the right people to crew for you, they can help with everything from maps, hot food, and transition strategy to being an alternate if one team member cannot make the race.
During the race, take care of your feet. Our team didn’t finish our first long race because my teammate and I wore hiking boots on a long hiking leg and we both trashed our feet. Running shoes are typically fine. Wear shoes and socks that will shed water.
What you eat during a race is up to you. Practice your nutrition on your long training days and your overnights. I have read that racers burn about 10,000 calories per 24 hours. That means you need to eat and drink almost nonstop in order to keep going. Many racers quit because they have not eaten or hydrated enough.
Find a pack that fits comfortably without pounding you to death when you run. Travel as light as possible; your required gear, food, water and clothing will be plenty of weight. Don’t pack like you’re camping.
Again, don’t quit because you’re tired. Realize you’re going to get tired in a long race again and again. Rest for a few minutes. Talk to your teammates about how you’re feeling. Help a teammate who’s fighting to continue. You’ll be glad you kept going.
Finally, manage your training and racing time so you can keep your life in balance. Your training, your family, your friends, your faith, and your job all have their place in your life. We all turn into “race heads” the week before a big event. Just don’t let AR take charge of your life.
There is no substitute for experience in AR. Your second race with the same team is much easier than the first, and so on. Anticipating what will happen in a race is much easier when you know your teammates.
Be flexible and congenial while you train and while you race together. Respect your teammate’s schedules and keep your commitments. We believe that the team who has the most fun wins.