Top 10 tips on how to survive your first 4 hour adventure race

Adventure racing looks exciting and, as its name suggests, it is more of an adventure rather, than a race. It is truly relevant to the sprint events as well as expedition race. 

"The very first race I registered for was about 50 km long. Based on the normal perception of 42.2 km being a standard marathon, to say I was slightly nervous would have been an understatement. 12-hour events came up quickly and less than a year later I was into the real expedition stuff." - Maria, event director.

So, you got hooked by flash pictures and registered. Now you are not sure what to expect. 

Excitement is building… 

Here are the top 10 tips on how to survive your first adventure race: 

  1. Do not panic. Everyone has done their first race and guess what? Some loved it, some hated it, but everyone survived (except for three deaths in early years of expedition racing, where the races were held in some crazy places) and everyone had a lot of fun. 
  1. Get ready for adventure. As we already stated, an adventure race is an adventure, first of all, then a race. If you treat it like this, you will love it. Yes, there is a competition component, but first of all, it is about comradeship, personal challenge, and achievement. A connection with nature and, once again, adventure. Get ready for the unknown, it is almost impossible to prepare for everything. You will face something which you have not done before and you will need to figure it out on the spot, think on your feet. You will complete it and you will feel great about yourself.

You and your teammate will get a map and will be looking for checkpoints determined by the race description. Some stages will be on foot, some on a bike and some in a kayak. You will have access to your gear in certain sections of the course, where you can get your food, water and change gear. 

Sprint races are usually done as a cloverleaf, where you have one or two centers (transition areas) where you store your gear. A week or two prior the race you will receive a scheme of the course (see Final Info pack example) and be able to get an idea of what the course will look like. Usually, the courses are prepared with the aim to take you on a tour to the most scenic places. Expect to visit the highlights of the region in which the event is held. It may involve some climbing to high points. 

sprint series adventure race kayaking

  1. Start training. The more training you can fit in prior to the event, the better. However, what is important to know is, no matter how much you train, your level of suffering purely depends on you and how much pressure you put on yourself. Do not want to put any pressure on yourself? Then just go out and have fun. Your training routine may consist of pretty much any endurance exercise. This is the beauty of adventure racing, whatever you do, if it benefits your endurance, strength, and speed, it will help your result in adventure racing. Training is a very broad topic and we’re not going to cover it within a single article. The number one tip here is; try to find hills and try to accommodate longer sessions on weekends. Get off-road. Every half an hour counts and helps.  If you have an opportunity to commute to the office on the road instead of taking a train, use this opportunity and fit another 20-30-40 minutes of exercise in during the week. If you can fit another 30 minutes of the gym in your lunch break, it will help too. Try to aim for 6-12 hours per week, but do not overdo it. You are better to train less than to overtrain, especially if you have a lot of stress and commitments in life. Getting enough sleep and recovery time will get you to a better result in the long run. 
  1. Get to know what’s involved. Adventure racing is a lot about skill. The list of specific skills is quite long and you will never stop improving, as disciplines involved in adventure racing often change as organisers get more creative, trying to make it more adventurous. The core disciplines remain the same: running/trekking, mountain biking, paddling, and navigation. So you will need to master those to a certain level. Everyone can run/trek, riding is familiar to most, paddling is a little bit harder, but again, the crafts used for most racers are beginner-friendly. After a minimal amount of practice, everyone can handle them reasonably comfortably. What we want to put emphasis on, is that the easiest to improve and the most critical skills to develop from the start is Navigation. If you are getting lost too often and for too long, it doesn’t matter how fast you can ride/run/paddle. Get into street orienteering, regaining. Find some permanent courses. Practise makes perfect here. 
  1. Build your team right. Adventure racing is a team sport for a reason. A team environment changes racing dynamic, adding extra limitations. You need to do the course together with your teammate and doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are, you need to finish it together with your teammate. However, it gives extra opportunities as well. Once you are tired, broken or have run out of the water, your teammate is there to help you and support you. Getting lost together is much more fun too. In a race, you will be a little bit like a family, so it’s a good idea to know each other prior to the event, know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  Stay positive and try to make a joke out of everything during the race. 

sprint series adventure race mountain bike

  1. Have the right equipment. Have a look at the event gear list, make your own list. Think of extra clothes you might need for each discipline. It could get quite extensive, but if you’re looking at an under 6-hour event, do not overcomplicate things. Make sure you try all your racing gear before the event day. 
  1. Pack enough food and a little bit more. Take food that is easy to digest, such as gels, bars and whatever you choose to eat, do not forget electrolytes, especially if it is hot. Staying hydrated and maintaining glucose levels is crucial. Eat every 20 - 30 minutes. A classic rookie mistake is to hit the wall and then start to eat. You do not want this to happen.
  1. Carefully check all pre-race information, it will have all the important details.

sprint series adventure race search for checkpoint

  1. Arrive early on the day to assemble your bike and prepare your backpack with all the water, food and extra gear. Get dressed ready to race, register at the event HQ, check all racing materials and try to prepare your maps as much as possible before the start. 
  1. Be aware that things can possibly go wrong. Yes, most likely you will get lost, maybe even a few times, you will be exhausted, you might break your chain, get a flat or run out of food, but once you defeat all odds and get to the finish line, it will be a seriously rewarding experience. 

And last but not least, if you enjoyed it, do not wait too long to book your next adventure, this will keep you fit, excited and motivated. Maybe even look at the expedition racing and open a new chapter of your life. 

sprint series adventure race mass start on the beach