To get an idea of what it is like to prepare for your first adventure
race, it is more appropriate to think of it as an expedition than
a sporting event. You will need to plan every element from what
gear and food to carry, to who you will do the competition with
and which competition to do. Although you probably won't believe
this until you have experienced it, more than half of the challenge
is just getting to the start line as a well prepared, complete team.
This is especially true for your first race (although we're finding
it doesn't get that much better for subsequent races).
The following is an overview of some of the major elements to think
about when preparing for your first race. This is not a science,
however, and the experience will be different for everyone. Use
this only as a guideline to create your own experiences and successful
racing formula. Adventure racing is an ongoing learning process.
Only the best teams in the world have got all of the details worked
out and that came through years of trial and error. You won't be
able to nail all skills for adventure racing for your first race.
In fact, you won't really fly up the learning curve until you do
your first race. So don't expect to be an expert right away. And
don't be discouraged if you feel like you its too much to take in.
You've got years to get it all right.
Selecting a Team
Once you have decided to get into adventure racing, one of the first
and most critical things to do is get together with the right team.
You will be spending significant time with your teammates in very
stressful situations, both during the race and in preparations leading
up to it. Make sure you all have the same goals, similar physical
ability and similar levels of commitment to the event. A mismatch
in any of these opens the door for endless frustration for both
sides. It is also a good idea to look for a good balance of personalities
as well, although this is not critical. Most importantly, make sure
you all get along and can enjoy each other's company. Always remember,
this is a team sport and you can only cross the finish line together.
There will be times when you will need to help your teammates out
and times when you will need help. Can you count on your teammates
to help you and can they count on you?
Setting Goals and Priorities
How seriously you and your team plan to take each race and how competitive
you want to be are details that must be discussed before the race
day (in fact, they should be discussed when you are putting together
the team). To put it bluntly, since you must race together at all
times, the success of the team is reduced to the lowest common denominator.
If one of your teammates is not willing to commit to being competitive
then your team will not be competitive. Make sure you have agreed
in advance what your goals and commitment levels will be.
There are two elements to your training program, physical training
and skill training. For both, it is best to try and simulate race
situations in your training program. Make sure you collect as much
information as possible on the format and disciplines involved in
the race you have chosen to do. In terms of skills required, some
races require certification of certain skills, such as kayaking,
horseback riding or glacier trekking. They may also test your abilities
at registration. Be sure to verify what is required with the race
organizers. Obviously this is for your own safety, so don't take
The best form of physical training for any race is to simulate the
different elements of the race you are doing. If the race includes
long sections of hiking with a pack or hill/mountain climbing, make
sure you include that in your training. Your feet may be tough enough
for a three hour run, but wait till you see what happens to them
after a 20 hour hike, with an extra 30 lbs on your back. In the
months leading up to a race, it is best to do most of your training
with a pack. Also, try to do at least one 10-15 hour non-stop multi-sport
weekend session per month. It helps train your body to burn fat
and gives you an idea of how bad you will feel by day two in the
race. It's also important to do some of your longer training with
your teammates. It's not just your body that goes soft after long
stretches with little sleep. Make sure you know how each of your
teammates reacts to sleep deprivation and fatigue. Arguments can
Choosing the right gear for a race is an endless process. We don't
know of anyone that has found the ideal gear for all races. Everyone
is always looking for newer, lighter, more efficient technology.
This is definitely one of the more challenging parts of preparation
and has been the source of many long meetings for our teams. Although
almost all races will provide you with a minimum equipment list,
it is nothing more than that - the absolute minimum required to
compete. You will always need more than that. If possible, talk
to people who have raced before to get a feel for what will suit
you best. Just asking people in an outdoor store, or people unfamiliar
with adventure racing, may not be so valuable. Make sure you also
understand the climate, terrain and weather for the location of
your race. This will play a big role in your equipment decisions.
As a general rule, lightest and simplest to use is best. The more
serious you are about the race, the more important this becomes
and the more expensive it seems to get.
What to eat during the race and in training is a very difficult
subject. There are many very different schools of thought on the
subject, although there are a few basic rules that most people will
agree on. First, count on burning more than 6,000 calories a day
(for non-stop races). Second, the best foods are those with the
highest calories per pound you must carry. Finally, make sure you
like the taste of the foods you are bringing. It is not easy to
force down 6,000 calories of food you don't like. As for the specific
foods to bring and the best source of calories (fat, protein, carbs),
there are many different answers. Some racers believe large amounts
of carbohydrates is best (Powerbars, gels and sugars). Many others,
however, believe fats are the right answer since the vast majority
of any long race will be spent in your fat burning zone. Everyone
is different. Experiment with many different things in your training
to see what works best for you. Always be on the lookout for new
ideas and take advice from 'experts' with a grain of salt. Although
there are experts on endurance training, I have yet to meet or read
of one that defines endurance sports as being longer than 10-12
hours. It is an entirely different ball game when you are talking
about 3-10 days of non-stop exercise. Most nutritionists would faint
if they saw someone eat a ¼ lb of butter wrapped in a pita
but it seems to work for some of the best teams.
Adventure racing is expensive. That's all there is to it. And the
more seriously you take it, the more expensive it becomes. There
is always lighter, more efficient gear available. Therefore, unless
you are independently wealthy, it is important to plan ahead to
minimize your spending. Obviously the best way to make a race affordable
is to get sponsorship for your team. This can either be in the form
of a financial sponsor (a company that gives you a cheque for the
right to name your team and put logos all over you) or a product
sponsor (companies that give you product to use during the race).
It is not easy to get sponsorship for your first race. Even for
subsequent races it is a difficult and long process. The key to
success lies in being able to offer guaranteed exposure to companies
that sponsor your team. This means, not only do you have to prepare
many documents and make many calls to potential sponsor companies,
but you must first prepare many documents and make many phonecalls
to drum up media attention (unless of course you're going to win
the race and the media will come to you). To get the media to listen,
you've got to figure out what is interesting about your team competing
in this race and exploit the hell out of it. It's a long, tiring
Since we are primarily talking about preparing for your first race,
we will assume that having a major sponsor pay your bills is not
an option. There are still many things you can do to lower your
costs. There are many discounts to be had by those that ask. First,
you should make a list of all of the gear your team will need to
purchase. Categorize it by supplier or store so you can figure out
which are the best stores or businesses to hit up for pro-deals
or discounts, and how much leverage you have with that store. Make
sure you contact the organizers of the race you are competing in,
as they may have already set up pro-deal arrangements with some
Putting it in Perspective
As you can see, there is a lot to learn about how to prepare for
an adventure race, especially if you want to take on a longer race.
In fact, it may seem a little daunting when you look at it all at
once. Well, it is
if you want to be a top team in a long race.
If your aspirations are anywhere below that, then things become
a little easier. You don't have to know everything there is to know
about adventure racing to do your first race. You don't even have
to have all of the right gear. In fact, part of the draw of this
sport is that you learn new things at every race you enter. So don't
expect to be an expert your first time out, and don't be intimidated
by the depth and breadth of learning you can put into adventure
racing. Besides, if you had it all figured out you would have so
much less to talk about in the bar after the race.
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