Inspired by Eco-Challenge, it is time to try adventure racing
Although Eco-Challenge has reportedly been cancelled by Amazon Prime, the first season was enough to inspire renewed interest in adventure racing despite not getting a second chance to watch all that suffering, adventure, and natural beauty.
Despite the success or failure of one show, it is still time for you to explore the amazing sport called adventure racing. Psychologists consistently recommend developing a sense of purpose, connectedness, and time outdoors for battling isolation and depression. What better for the present moment than taking concrete steps towards future adventures, training in the great outdoors, and finding a huge community of (virtual) friends ready to share your dreams?
Here are a few tips on how to get started:
There are numerous sites devoted to all aspects of adventure racing, each with respective social media accounts. Most include a helpful introductory article much like this one.
- Sleepmonsters: devoted to reporting on adventure racing around the globe. Good for finding races, following race results (honestly, this can be as addictive as binging Ecochallenge), great photos, and training tips.
- The Canadian Adventure Racing Association: includes a comprehensive list of Canadian races through an interactive map as well as helpful articles. The Facebook site includes photos and videos from recent races.
- Attackpoint: delightfully low-tech site of sorts for adventure racers and orienteerers. Push past the disorienting orange links and explore the incredible wealth of chat subjects, athlete training logs (look for the noisy logs for consistent posting), and race news. If you’re so inclined, this can also be how you log your training. The “Eco-Challenge” topic has some very hot takes.
- AR on AR: AR stands for Adam Rose as well as Adventure Racing. Adam Rose, a reporter from Sleep Monsters, has a number of great YouTube videos to answer your questions on adventure racing. He’s detailed and precise and very humble about you not taking his word for things.
Volunteering to help out at a race is a fantastic way to learn about the sport and make friends with other racers and wannabe racers. Find a race near you (using the interactive map from the Canadian Adventure Racing site) and there will be a “volunteer” tab on the event website. Volunteering can be as easy as handing out T-shirts and as involved as hiking into remote checkpoints to stay overnight. No matter what you do, you will be deeply appreciated — no races can happen without volunteers — and you will learn a lot. Make sure you dress appropriately for the weather, ask lots of questions, and keep a positive attitude. These skills are directly transferable to racing, and are much more important than you might think.
Find a Team
Classic adventure racing is a team sport. Sure, there are individual multisport and orienteering events, but if you’re going to get lost in the wilderness for several days, you definitely want some teammates around. All adventure races have rules about how far away you can be from your team-mates — it’s usually not more than out of eyesight.
Finding a team that works for you is the most difficult part of racing, but when it works well, it is by far the most rewarding. Great teammates should ideally be around the same level of fitness and ability, but the most important characteristic of a teammate is that they can communicate well with you about the race and their goals before and during. Find teammates through websites or the Facebook group for the race in which you are interested.
There are usually many people also looking for teams. Attackpoint is also a great way to find teammates. Ideally, you will be able to train in person together and have a few good conversations to determine if you are a good match before the race.
Eco-Challenge is a wild ride, but you can experience almost the same level of excitement in a sprint adventure race (4-8 hrs) close to home. Sprint adventure races include the major disciplines of adventure racing—paddling, trekking, and mountain biking—and usually also have a navigation component, but they happen over a four- to eight-hour time period rather than over multiple days. Adventure racing is aptly named because there is always an adventure, whether it’s a seven-day jungle slog in an international destination or getting lost in an Ontario forest for a few hours.
Check out race calendars to find a race that appeals to you, and feel free to contact the race organizer if you want advice about whether it’s the right fit for you. Most races are cancelled at the moment, but you can look at past year calendars to see what to expect as soon as COVID-19 restrictions lift — and keep an eye on the websites to see what happens in the coming year.
Get fit (at least a little bit)
Adventure racing can be done at any pace, for any length of time, depending on your goals and the race you choose. You will enjoy it more, however, if your legs aren’t sore for 100 per cent of the race, and your tender buttocks has some experience with a bike saddle. Plan to run and ride a bike somewhat regularly. There are a number of programs that will help you bike through the winter, including Zwift and TrainerRoad. Zwift is a social biking tool, allowing you to bike virtually with friends. Look for Get Out There’s upcoming article on how to set up your indoor biking studio and how to get started running outside in the winter so that you can be prepared for upcoming race seasons.
Do not let your fitness (or perceived lack of it) be a barrier to competing in an adventure race. Sure, you see well-muscled athletes on TV and Facebook, but every adventure is totally dependent on your own particular skills. Be open to learning and respect yourself for starting a new hardcore sport.
Learn to navigate (just the basics)
In a team of four racers, there is usually only one navigator. If you don’t know someone who can navigate, or you don’t like the feeling of being completely dependent on a team member, it’s time to learn to navigate. Orienteering is a wonderful way to keep fit, get outside, and learn to navigate. It's also one of the activities possible during the pandemic. Most regions have orienteering clubs that offer navigation clinics—an essential place to begin—as well as regular events. Don’t Get Lost racing has several great events that are happening throughout the fall in the GTA.
Learn to Paddle
Most races involve a paddling component, usually canoe or kayak. Learning the rudiments of a kayak and canoe stroke will make this part of a race more enjoyable for you, as well as for anyone with whom you share a boat. Many races will offer a quick introduction and practice session before the race — check with the organizers.
Try staying outside (for a very long time)
Adventure races mean staying outside, and in motion, for much longer than you would ever do in ordinary life. Fitness aside, staying comfortable outside and in motion is a skill that will have a huge impact on your enjoyment of racing. Try running or biking—very slowly, with lots of breaks, if required—for multiple-hour stretches, to discover all the joys of clothing that might chafe you, foods that might become unpalatable (hint: it will be the energy bars), equipment that might break, tempers that might flare when you forget to eat. Then learn how to deal with those problems and keep going.
Then, feel proud of yourself as you begin to discover why most people who do the sport just can’t stop doing it.
by Nicky Cameron