Selecting races

article008Events are no longer few and far between. On any given weekend there are many adventure races to choose from – and even more events once you include the separate sporting disciplines that are incorporated into adventure races like paddling, running, mountain biking and orienteering. As you’ll have to work around regulatory factors like limited finances and little time off work, consider these points when selecting races.

Race Type & Distance
What kind of race are you interested in entering? A 3hr sprint, a 24hr jaunt, a 2-day event that will have you out for at least one night or an epic 5-day expedition? Does the event include a discipline that you’ve never done, like sea kayaking, or a discipline in which you’re weak, like swimming? Are you stronger on foot, favouring races with long hiking legs, or do you prefer races in which the mountain biking discipline is dominant? Have you got the experience to handle an event with challenging navigation? Is the race assisted (you need a support crew) or unassisted? While the event information sheet will provide general information, you may have to contact the race organiser directly to confirm specific race elements.

An event series may initially appear attractive because of prize money, but…

  • Once you’ve committed to a series, your flexibility in racing events outside of the series is limited as your finances, race time, training time and recovery time will be tied up.
  • As the event locations may not be disclosed upfront, you may end up travelling to areas in which you don’t want to race or that demand too much time away due to travelling distance.
  • The series coordinators select the event organisers
  • Race distances may change – you could end up racing longer or shorter courses than initially anticipated.
  • Even if your team falls apart, you’re contractually committed to entering a team in the events.

Event Location
The location of an event will determine travelling time and feasibility. Are you prepared to travel 9hrs for a 24hr race? While you may be prepared to travel 9hrs for a 2-day race, bear in mind that because of the distance it actually becomes a 4-5 day event – including traveling time. Distance traveled is also related to finances and calendar (see below).

Location also offers clues as to the type of terrain (mountainous, tropical, forested, desert etc) and climate (hot, cold, humid etc) you’ll encounter. If you’re insufficiently kitted for a mountainous event held in winter, select another event.

Team Format
4-person, mixed gender teams have been the standard format in all events except adventure sprints, which feature 3-person teams. Recently paired team entries have gained popularity and at some stage solo categories may also regularly feature.
Finding four people with the same goals (see below) and similar abilities (see below) is not easy although it does get easier once you’ve been in the sport for a while and have had the opportunity to meet other racers. There are also many more men taking part than women thus all-male teams are not uncommon.
If you’re starting out and are battling to find another 3 teammates, investigate racing as a paired team as an easy-to-coordinate, feasible alternative. Be aware though that racing as a pair has its disadvantages. You don’t have the strengths of a team to depend on and your interaction with the other person must be good as you lack other team-members for “dilution”.
Racing solo is only recommended if you have a lot of experience and are strong in all disciplines.

Is the race held over a weekend? A long weekend? During holiday time i.e. Easter or Christmas? Are you able to take leave from work? If a race is held over 2 days but requires two travel days to get there and home, then you’re looking at 4 days away. You may have to apply for leave from work. When travelling long distances you may want to take an additional day or two so that you can split the travelling time or arrive a day early to rest the day before the event start. You may need a rest day after the event before driving home.

The season in which the event is held will affect your gear requirements and if you really don’t handle cold well, give winter races a miss or enter events in warmer parts of the country.

Your financial situation will limit the number and type of events you enter. The entry fee for longer events is substantially higher than that of smaller events. And, costs for things like transport, accommodation, food and gear add a substantial amount to your expenses. These increase with race duration.

While it may appear worth your while to race shorter events that have lower entry fees, if you add up the costs involved in heading off regularly for a weekend away, you’ll realise that it may work out more cost effective to a few race longer events less often than many short events more frequently.

It is essential that you and your teammates have the same goals. If you’re content just to get to the finish line and a teammate has his heart set on a top 3 placing, you’re going to have team dynamic issues – an unpleasant situation. You may also have to adjust your goals according to the event and distance. Just because your team places in the sprints, it doesn’t mean that they’ll fare well in longer races. With experience you’ll move up the ranks. In addition, in an event where a discipline in which you lack experience and strength dominates i.e paddling, you’ll have to put in more preparation and realistically adjust your goals.

Attempting events that are above your level of competence will not only cause you great discomfort, but will also jeopardise your team’s success. If you’ve raced in long events successfully but have been out of training and racing, start small. Regain confidence in your abilities and fitness before tackling a bigger challenge. If you’ve never done a long race, but have been training and preparing, go for it. It’s one way to assess your competence level.

Your safety responsibilities include competence in all disciplines incorporated in the event and having a first aid qualification. Race organisers are responsible for ensuring your safety on potentially dangerous sections and providing qualified emergency medical assistance at the event. You have every right to ask the following questions of both new and established organisers.

  • Who designed the course? What is their experience? Have they, or others, physically done the route?
  • Are their sufficient staff on the course? Are their communication systems adequate and reliable?
  • Are emergency medics on hand? What are their qualifications? Are they physically able to access injured competitors – on foot if necessary?
  • What emergency evacuation procedures are in place?
  • Are the local authorities (police, fire, ambulance, hospital) aware of the race and possible emergency situations?
  • Are qualified water safety officials on hand? What is their qualification and experience?
  • Who rigged the rope sections? What is their qualification?

With the range and number of events being presented, it is definitely worth being selective. Although you may have to purchase additional equipment or travel more distance than you’d like to for certain races, if the event has successfully made it through your Where? (location), What? (type of race, team format and distance), When? (calendar), Why? (goals), How? (abilities and finances) decision-making steps, you’ll benefit more from this specifically selected event than another for which you compromised your criteria.