Adventure Racing Tips

With a compass and a stash of energy bars, adventure race teams forgo sleep and comfort as they traverse a wide variety of challenging terrain. Whatever the obstacles, adventure racers handle them as a team - no group is faster than its slowest member

Go light

Nothing will make you look more like a rookie than being the one at the start line with a huge, overstuffed backpack. Don't bring a complete change of clothes for a four hour race. Don't carry twice as much water as you need, "just in case you run out." You're not trying to earn a Boy Scout badge - you're racing! Go through your gear and ask yourself if there are any lighter alternatives that will do the same job. The ultralight stuff may not last as long, but the payoff is less work and greater speed on your part. Every ounce jettisoned adds up.

But don't go "stupid" light

There is a fine line between carrying too much gear and not having enough. Sometimes you need to gamble, but be smart. For example, if you know you tend to get really painful blisters, don't leave your tried and true blister kit at home to save weight. The time you save by shaving off the ounces won't offset the time you'll lose limping into the finish line with hamburger feet. And don't bring a thin windbreaker when you know a cold front is moving in!

Don't use new gear on race day

It happens to us all: You stop at the gear shop the day before your race, and there it is . . . the holy grail of trail shoes. They're sharp, light, rugged, and a wee bit too expensive. But with the race hanging in the balance, you plunk down a credit card and make them your own. You're convinced that these new shoes are bound to make the difference between winning the race and coming in 12th (like last time). Don't do it! Try them out later. Mile two of a 60-mile race is no place to find out that the ankle cuff digs into your ankle bone. The same goes for food. Race using the same food you know works for you in training.

Check out the competition

There are plenty of ways to skin a cat, so unless you want to figure them all out on your own - check out what the competition is doing, both on and off the racecourse. Those who have been in the sport for a while often have some really clever ways to train, set up the transition area, and carry gear. If another team goes screaming by you, try to figure out what it is that makes them perform better: training, technique, gear, teamwork?

Compare notes after the race

As no two teams experience the exact same race, adventure racers love to share notes. Don't be afraid to approach a successful team after the race to ask them how they navigated a certain part of the course that you had trouble with. You might learn something for next time.

Don't go too fast!

It is rarely the fastest team that wins the race - it's the team with the best combination of smarts and speed. Slowing down to make careful navigational decisions is more efficient than going too fast, missing a turn, and having to turn around. Don't stop looking at the map because you are trying to keep up with another team ahead of you . . . they may be going the wrong way!

Practice navigation

Many teams underestimate the importance of navigation in an adventure race. Participate in local orienteering events to hone your skills. Set up practice days with your team. Get used to reading all the different types of maps that you might receive on race day and be familiar with different scales and UTM* coordinate plotting. Each team should have at least two people who know how to navigate.

*UTM coordinates are similar to the longitude/latitude system but are much easier to read and work with

Waterproof your maps

Trust me, a zip-lock bag is not waterproof. No matter how careful you are, your map will get wet. Invest in a waterproof map case. Otherwise, if your map gets wet, your race may be over.

Be fast in transition areas

The race is still on in the transition area, yet so many people treat it as a place to rest. Think through what you need to do in the next transition area before you get there. Talk it through with your teammates as well. Keep what you set up in the transition area to a minimum. If you're the first one done, help your teammates. Get in and get out, but be careful! Before you leave, make sure you and your teammates make a quick check to be sure you haven't forgotten anything.

Love what you do

Race with people you like. Race with people who have similar goals. Don't fight. Be the best teammate you can be. And don't forget to have fun!