Adventure Venture

article002You’ve seen it on tv – popularised by the dramatic Eco Challenge shows. You’ve been reading the adventure racing calendar comment and listings in Runner’s World. Procrastinate no longer. Welcome to the realm of adventure racing, a dynamic multi-discipline off-road sport.

Frequently people say, “I’m not fit enough”. What is fit? In running there’s 30-min 10km fit and there’s 60-min 10km fit. Ditto for AR. Honestly, in most races you walk more than you run, pushing your bike up a hill is not frowned upon, and for most, except the competitive, experienced teams AR is purely about the journey and getting to the finish.

And race distances range from 25km to over 500km. There is something for everyone – even the most hesitant. Just enter a race and take stock of your skills and abilities afterwards

Primary AR disciplines are mountain biking and trekking or hiking. Paddling is common in races over 100km. The area in which the race is held determines the type of water activity, whether it be tubing, river, flat-water or sea kayaking, or white water rafting.
Rope skills are usually incorporated, supervised and assisted by rope professionals. Abseiling features in most events with flying-fox traverses and ascents only in races designed for more experienced competitors.
As for navigation… this is the discipline that defines adventure racing and differentiates it from multisport. Given maps and coordinates of control points and transitions, teams plot their own routes from start to finish.
Best Advice: In a race where the top teams have comparable physical strengths, the winner will ultimately be the one that chooses the best routes and is able to minimise their mistakes. Hone your skills by regularly attending weekend orienteering events.

Although most races allow paired and 3-person entries, the ‘classic’ AR format is a 4-person mixed-gender team where at least one racer must be of the opposite gender. It does take a good few months to find your ideal team combination, particularly when forming a 4-person team for multi-day events.
Team dynamics are crucial and result not only in a successful race, but also in a happy, memorable experience.
Best Advice: It is not advisable to enter multi-day races with your spouse, partner or long-term friends… if you want the relationship to continue after the race. Gain some racing and team experience first.

Most events are assisted, with support crews of kind friends or family members who transport equipment to designated transitions, prepare food for their team and administer much-appreciated moral and emotional support. Their job is to feed you, warm you, encourage you and then send you out into the cold darkness with a pat on your back and motivating applause.
Best Advice: Support crew volunteers are precious angels. Treat them like gold, cover their expenses for the event and don’t leave your smelly socks lying around for them to pick up.

Adventure racers love toys. Basics include a backpack (a 30l capacity will get you through everything), hydration system (a 2l water reservoir is adequate), trail shoes, socks, shorts, moisture-wicking top, cap, shades, mountain bike (with spare tubes, pump and basic repair tools) and helmet. As you advance, gear requirements and costs escalate.
Best Advice: Start off with a short summer race ((maximum of 6-8hr) as they require minimal gear. Then, steadily add to your toy-box with each event. Within a few years you’ll have a collection to be proud of.

There are established clubs in Joburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban/Pietermaritzburg, Bloemfontein, George & Krugersdrop. They all have monthly social meetings – a perfect environment to meet, mingle and ask questions. Visit

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW is South Africa’s adventure racing website. Visit the calendar to select races, read articles on all aspect of adventure racing and experience events through teams’ post-race reports.

Author: Lisa de Speville | Published in Runner’s World SA, Aug 2005