"You're going to do WHAT??? That's CRAZY!!!" That is often what is heard from those learning about AR for the first time. While most racers would not agree with the statement above, AR CAN be crazy if you are not well prepared. Making poor decisions before you ever get on to the racecourse can make for a very long and even dangerous race. The following are a number of things that need to be considered with respect to getting started in AR:
All smiles on course from these happy Adventure Racers!
Choosing a Race: AR has become so popular in North America (and globally) that chances are there is a race near you. Races range from "sprints" (4-12hrs) to multi-day expeditions. Starting with a sprint is a good idea for the beginner, as it allows for a taste of the sport, and can be completed by most people. When choosing a race, be aware of what gear may be needed to race. The standard gear for most sprint races - mountain bike, PFD, running shoes, and proper clothing - can be quite expensive, but as you get into longer races you may also be required to have climbing/rappelling gear, headlamps for night travel, extra shoes and clothing to change into, etc., which can add up quickly. Longer races also require the help of one or two support crew, which can sometimes be difficult to find.
Research / Education: Reading up on AR is a great way to learn more about the sport. There is a tremendous amount of information out there. Doing an online search for AR will return hundreds of sites. Also, take a stroll to your local bookstore or library - there are several books and magazines published about the sport. Race reports from particular races can be another great way to get a first-hand account of some of the highlights and challenges that presented themselves during an event.
Teammates: Some races are now offering a solo category, but AR has traditionally been a team sport. The essence of a good team is positive group dynamics. A good attitude also goes a long way. This cannot be overemphasized because racing can bring out unexpected and unwanted sides of yourself and your teammates. Two of the most important things to consider when choosing teammates are goals and expectations for the race. Is the team hoping to simply complete the race or will it push as much as possible in an effort to place well? Agreeing to the team expectations PRIOR to the race is mandatory.
When soliciting team members, although training buddies & friends seem like obvious choices, you can also take advantage of online databases of racers. Another way to find potential teammates and/or people to train with is by joining a club. There are lots of clubs sprouting across the country - many of which can be found online.
Teamwork: An intergal part of any successful Adventure Race
Volunteering / Support Crew: There are numerous ways of getting involved in the sport without actually racing. All races require lots of volunteers! Also, many longer races require a support crew to assist each team with meals, logistics, and cheering! These two options provide ideal circumstances to witness a race first hand, learn how teams get organized, & hear all the lessons learned during the race. This is also a great way to meet potential teammates….
Getting Organized / Logistics: Before you get to the start line there is quite a bit of organizing to do. Once you get registered, you will receive a list of mandatory gear, which can include all the gear for the different disciplines, clothing, and first aid supplies. It is imperative to go through the list with your teammates well enough in advance because trying to borrow or buy something you forgot to bring on the morning of a race is not fun! Most often you will have to carry all the food and liquids you need. Bringing extra can be a good idea, but you must be conscious of putting too much extra weight in your pack. In your pack, it is helpful to pack things based on ease of access as well as frequency of use (Ex. food, rain gear, and first aid supplies should be found in easy to access pockets). If possible, pack as a team (a good team bonding exercise). Experienced teams often put some of their gear in each other's packs so that they can access it without having to stop or to take their own pack off during a race. Either way, it is important to discuss who is packing what. You can never be too organized!
Physical Preparation: Our favorite part! The race(s) you have chosen, and your current fitness levels determine the type & amount of training needed for the race. The bottom line however, is that regardless of your fitness level, frequent sport specific training is required. The majority of your training should be aerobic. Once you have a fitness base, you can introduce intervals/speed work and strength/hills.
Don't be afraid to weight train too, it is essential for becoming stronger and preventing injuries. Cross training is also an excellent way to prevent boredom while building fitness. Training with your teammates, although not essential, is an asset as you will get a feel for teammates strengths/weaknesses and can practice things such as towing and paddling together. Be sure to practice your weakest event(s) most. Remember the team cannot go any faster than its slowest member on any particular leg of the race, so minimizing your weaknesses can often be more beneficial than maximizing your strengths. You can also practice strategies and decision-making with teammates to gain an appreciation of how you work best together. Finally, ensure that you are confident in each discipline and know how to properly use your gear before the race.