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From TV to reality: How to make your own adventure racing dreams come true

Welcome Eco-Challenge Fans!

After an almost 20-year hiatus from prime time, and a year of anxiously awaiting its arrival, the World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji has been released on Amazon Prime! Whether you were crossing off the days in your calendar, or came across it by chance, there’s no arguing that the series makes both the sport of adventure racing and its athletes look like the badasses that they really are. If while watching this series, you thought to yourself, “hey, I’d like to try this out!,” here’s a few ideas to help you get started.

While 2020 may have thrown a wrench into the adventure racing season across most of the country, the good news is that you have lots of time to plan, train, and put together an unstoppable team in time for 2021. If you’ve never adventure raced before, and would like to give it a try, there are adventure races that take place across Canada, in lengths and formats suited to everyone. Many sprint events start at just a few hours in length, and if you are ready for more of a challenge, Canada is also host to some world class events up to 24 hours and longer. A list of organizations that put on adventure races in Canada has been included below, so that you can get yourself amped up and ready to race!

Team Canada Adventure with Mark Burnett at Eco-Challenge Fiji (from left to right: Bob Miller, Rea Kolbl, Mark Burnett, Ryan Atkins, Scott Ford, Wayne Leek)

What Am I Getting Myself Into?

Let’s start from the beginning. So what is adventure racing? A recent Sleepmonsters defines adventure racing as: “an outdoor endurance sport for teams including a combination of mountain biking, trail running/trekking, paddle sports (kayak/canoe/raft), and map and compass navigation.” This means to be a good adventure racer, you can get away with being a jack of all trades, rather than a master of one. And if you are into gear, we’ve got good news for you – adventure racing is a gear junkie’s dream sport! If you are starting from scratch in the world of adventure racing, there are some great introductory resources like this one about the sport on the Sleepmonsters website.

Start Small

Even if it makes for great television, not all adventure races require international travel, multiple sub-disciplines, and a week of suffering in a foreign country. A great way to try out the sport is a “sprint” adventure race, which can be anywhere between 4-8 hours and are often geared towards those new to the sport. There are even wilderness multisport events that follow marked courses, which offers the opportunity to train and practice traditional adventure racing disciplines (running/trekking, biking, and paddling) without the added element of navigation. While it’s certainly in the spirit of adventure to throw yourself (and your team) into a longer or more difficult event to see how much you can endure, your chances of success (and staying the sport) are likely longer if you choose your first events wisely before filming your Eco-Challenge application video. Most directors of adventure races are happy to help you decide if an event is right for you and your team – just give them a shout!

Choose your Company (Wisely)

Some adventure races, especially shorter ones, allow participants to sign up and race solo, but the true spirit of adventure racing is as a team-based event. Long days in the woods can bring out both the best and the worst in your teammates, so choose them wisely! It is important to spend time training together as a team, to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and to communicate openly with each other before the race about team and race goals so that you are all on the same page before you head out onto the course. While (some of) the teams in Eco-Challenge make the teamwork aspect of the sport look easy, you’ll see that this is something that newer teams often struggle with.

Team Atlas Captain Alex Provost

Photo Credit: Brian Finestone

Find Your Way

While many people come to adventure racing with some previous experience in running, biking or paddling, the navigation component of AR is often new to them. Most regions have local orienteering clubs that offer a variety of training opportunities and events where you can practice your compass work and route selection as you bash around the woods. If you are in Ontario, check out Don’t Get Lost, who hosts events throughout the year, including appropriately distanced ones in 2020! You can find a listing of orienteering clubs across the country on the Orienteering Canada website.

Learn From the Couch

Most adventure races take place during the spring – fall months, although there are a handful of winter events if you want to get a head start on the season! You can use your downtime to train in other ways.

A new Youtube Channel called “AR on AR” features several new videos on how to get started in adventure racing. Check it out here.

Ian Adamson, one of the greats of the sport, wrote the Runner’s World Guide to Adventure Racing: How to Become a Successful Racer and Adventure Athlete. While some of our gear options may have changed since the book was published in 2004, the principles of training and teamwork emphasized in the book are just as relevant. You’ll find several other popular and useful titles on the sport through Indigo, Amazon, or your local library.

Want to learn more about the 2019 Eco-Challenge? The USARA has a website devoted to this event, where you can learn more about the race, and read articles and interviews with racers, including one with Canada’s Bob Miller, an Eco-Challenge veteran who raced on Team Canada Adventure. There is also tons of Eco-Challenge coverage, as well as resources about the sport, on the Sleepmonsters website, which has been an adventure racing institution for decades.

There’s good reason that adventure racing has inspired the hashtag #bestdamnsport Why limit yourself to one discipline, when you can combine a bunch of them by spending the day (or more) in the woods with your teammates, then celebrate your mistakes and successes at the end of the day while planning for the next race? From 1995-2002, Eco-Challenge played a pivotal role in showcasing the sport of adventure racing and inspiring a generation of athletes to give it a try. The 2019 edition of the World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji is bound to do the same, making the 2021 adventure racing season across Canada (and perhaps the world) one of the most exciting ones in a long time. So what are you waiting for?

Team Canada Adventure Captain Bob Miller

Photo Credit: Tara Kerzhner/Amazon

Canadian Adventure Race Websites

While not all race organizations will have their dates set for 2021, it’s never to early to poke around the Internet and find some events near you, to learn more about the format and length of races offered. Below is a list of Canadian adventure racing organizations to help you get started! Most have a social media presence as well so you can follow along as race plans unfold for next year.

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