Guidelines for racers and organisers

I put this document together in April 2003, following a number of badly organised races where CPs were in the wrong place, race briefings were delayed and very, very long and unnecessary… some things improve slowly. Still, it is important to know what you should be expecting from races and for the organisers, what you should be presenting to your entrants. Take heed and racers, stand up for quality events and value for your money.

This document has been initiated as a constructive guide to both racers and organisers. For the racers, it expresses what they can expect at events; and for the organisers the Forum guides the competitors and records their expectations. In March 2003 I sent out an email to many teams, who have been racing for a number of years, asking for constructive comments aimed at improving the standard of events. In my email to these teams I expressed the following views: 

“There have been a number of really good races but even these have had issues/problems of sorts. Most of these issues are easily avoidable and totally unnecessary. There’s a certain allowance for ‘learning’ but at this stage we’re out of nappies and into a more professional realm.

I believe that the racers and the organisers should be working together. Adventure racing is not about one or the other. To develop successful events there must be a synergy between the two. 

Racers should be saying what they want, what they don’t want in races and after the event should provide constructive feedback to the organiser. 

You guys have experience and know what you want and what you don’t want. You are also role models for the newcomers and you have the ability to drive this sport. You are the ones who can help to elevate our races and in so doing raise the level of  competition and your abilities. If you ever want to race internationally (even just to finish) you need to tackle more challenging events that really give you a run for your money.” 

I compiled the responses from teams and organisers to create this document.
Lisa de Speville, April 2003

Team & Competitor Responsibility

  • Teams are expected to enter races by the registration cut-off date. This includes their entry forms and full payment. The cut-offs are put in place so that the organiser can plan the logistics for the number of entered teams i.e. maps, water craft, food, accommodation etc
  • Organisers are encouraged to offer ‘early bird’ incentives i.e. reduced entry fee, turning down or imposing an additional fee on late entries.
  • Teams are to comply with the Standard Rules and Regulations as published on and any Event Specific Rules published by the race organiser.
  • Each participant must take responsibility for his/her health, fitness and competency in each discipline to be presented at the event.
  • While the race organiser takes responsibility for the safety of disciplines, the racers must ensure that comply with certification requirements i.e. ropes, first aid etc
  • Teams should ensure that they are able to navigate.
  • Teams should take responsibility for the condition and maintenance of their equipment and vehicles.
  • Constructive feedback should be given to the race organiser after each event. Applaud the positive and present negative comments in perspective and in context.
  • Discussions about the event are encouraged on the mailing list. Personal attacks on the organiser are forbidden.

 Pre-event Information

  • Event info should be posted on in good time, as teams need to plan for the event, book flights etc. event information for classic distance and expedition events should not be published less than 2 months before the event.\
  • Once entries are in, additional information must be sent to the Team Captain/Manager directly and should not be issued on the mailing list.
  • Information released on the web should include the following: 
    • Dates and times for the race registration and briefing
    • General location – if the exact location is not to be released until just before the event give a general location. Example: northern Gauteng, 1hr from JHB.
    • Team format – solos, pairs, 3’s or 4’s
    • Seconding requirements i.e. Are seconds needed? Recommended vehicle type e.g. 4×4 and special requirements like 75l water containers.
    • Equipment provided by the organiser – rafts, helmets, PFD’s, abseil equipment
    • Compulsory team equipment – first aid, shelter, sleeping & bivvy bags etc
    • Compulsory competitor equipment – whistle, safety blanket, backpack, hydration system, mountain bike, helmet etc
    • Disciplines – mountain biking, trekking, flat-water paddling, rafting (Grade ?), sea-kayak, rope ascent/descent traverse etc
    • Technical difficulty – this should be a basic guide as to the level of competency required by the racers. If the navigation and trekking sections are challenging then make note of this. Those less experienced may not enter while others will polish these skills in preparation for the challenge.
    • Course distance/time – considering some 200km events take 16hrs to complete and others take 40hrs, events should not only be listed according to distance. It should be stated, for example, that the first team should finish in 20hrs, middle-of-the-pack teams in 25hrs and back-markers in 30 – 36hrs.
    • Shortened course – mention if you will have a shortened-course route for those not reaching specific points by cut-off times.
    • Certification requirements – first aid, ropes, paddling etc
    • Event Specific Rules
    • Entry fees – each item included in the entry fee should be listed i.e. accommodation before and after the event, gate/park entry fees etc
    • Prizes for each category
    • Accommodation – before and after the event. Provide names and telephone details for accommodation options (camping, chalets, guest houses and hotels) in the area if you are not providing accommodation. If you do not want to give the race venue away, co-ordinate accommodation bookings for the teams.
    • Organiser contact details – telephone, cell phone, fax, email and web address (if applicable).
    • There should be no last-minute additions to initial kit and vehicle requirements.
  • Any other communication prior to the event should only be made directly with the team captain/manager of entered teams by email. This information should include:
    • Start venue & directions
    • Start times
    • Water – Is the water on the course drinkable? Cholera? Bilharzia?
    • Malaria?
    • Weather – what weather can be expected; rain, snow, wind, heat.
    • Registration, briefing and kit check times & procedures
    • Accommodation details – type of accommodation, self-catering facilities?
    • Competency testing – are you checking rope/water skills? When, where and what time?
    • Other event specific instructions

Race Briefing & Instructions

  • Race briefings should be concise and to the point.
  • The briefing should be used to welcome the teams and to hand out booklets, bibs, safety/emergency instructions and racing instructions – if applicable. Race instructions and maps may only be handed out just before the start.
  • The briefing should not be held late at night especially if there is an early morning start.
  • All instructions for competitors and seconds should be contained in a race instruction booklet.
  • Race instructions should be unambiguous especially where a misunderstanding could prove dangerous and disadvantageous to teams.

The following information should be in the race information booklet:

  • Co-ordinates – may be issued at the briefing, start of the race or in sections.
  • Be certain of the format in which the co-ordinates are presented. The standard format is:
    Degrees, minutes and fraction of minutes e.g. 29°45.5’ S and 27°23.75’ E
  • PC descriptions – in some cases a description of the PC location is useful i.e. left-hand side of the gate; bottom of cliff (as opposed to top of cliff – not always distinguishable on a 1:50 000 map); hanging in the tree behind the old farmhouse.
  • Map corrections – particularly if the maps are old. Corrections should be given for the whole map, not only for one route where many options may exist.
  • Start instructions – what time to meet, time of the start, the starting location – with directions.
  • River instructions – take-outs, portages, weirs, low-level bridges and other hazards (fallen trees, strainers etc) should be indicated.
  • Seconding instructions (this should be a separate document) – what time to leave the start, directions to the first transition (see below Seconding for further points).
  • Specific event rules & regulations
  • Emergency contact numbers for teams to call if they end up at a farmhouse or if they have an ‘emergency’ cell phone and have reception.

Race Alterations

  • Changes should only be made prior to the first team reaching the point where the change is to be implemented. While in most cases this is possible there may be situations where changes may only effect some of the field e.g. due to heavy rainfall a bridge collapses after the first few teams have passed. If changes occur after some teams have passed, these teams should be credited any difference in time.
  • Any changes to the route should be put on paper to be read by the Transition Official, Marshal or Race Director to the captain of each team. Instructions must not be given verbally as these messages tend to not be consistent. Instructions must be read. This way each team will receive the same instructions.
  • Should a transition area be moved, a marshal must be placed at the original point. They should:
    • Read the new instructions to each team captain.
    • Provide water and food to the competitors (if the distance/duration of the new section warrants this). Teams plan their food and water according to distances and the time it will take them to complete sections. Should they have to spend more time out to reach a new transition, food and water may need to be provided.
  • Should a race start or re-start be scheduled at short notice, teams must all be given an equal and fair chance to get prepared.
  • Plan B should be just as exciting and challenging as Plan A.

Support Crews/Seconds
Seconds have a very important role to play in each team. They have to move around the course locating the various transition areas, delivering equipment and providing food to their team. They do need information.

  • Seconding booklet – handed out at registration or after the start. It should contain directions and a map to at least the first transition as well as start instructions. Emergency contact numbers should be included.
  • Specific transition instructions and further directions can be handed out at each transition by the official and placed on the transition notice board (see below under Transitions).
  • All seconds should receive the same instructions.


  • The transition area should be clearly demarcated with banners and bunting.
  • Critical turn-offs on the way to the transition should be marked with reflective tape or a signboard.
  • The location of the transition official should be clearly indicated. The official should be easily identifiable (t-shirt/bib). They should be located at the entrance or exit of the transition area.
  • Seconds should check-in and check-out with the transition official.
  • Teams should check-in and check-out with the transition official (times to be recorded)
  • Transition notice board – a big notice board should be put up at each transition area and should detail the following:
    • Where to park
    • Location of the ablution facilities
    • Availability of water and condition of water.
    • Team positions at the last transition or checkpoint – where possible.
    • Expected team arrival times. Example: Front teams expected at 11h00, middle teams at 14h00 and back teams, not sooner than 16h00.
    • Restricted areas – often the seconds have time and they’d like to go for a walk. It would help for them to know areas where they can and can’t go exploring.
    • Map to the next transition area and expected travel duration (also to be handed out on paper by the transition official if not handed out at the start).
    • Location of the medical crews
    • Any new or special instructions (e.g. route changes, security warnings) that have developed during the race.

Officials and Marshals
Officials and marshals are mostly volunteers. In return for their time and commitment to the event the organiser should cover their transport costs. They should be given a food allowance, or food should be provided, as well as accommodation at the start and finish. These people stay out waiting for teams for hours (and perhaps even days!) and will only be encouraged to come back to events if treated correctly. People interested in being an official or a marshal can contact Lisa at to be added to the volunteer database.

Transition Officials
The Transition Officials are the teams’ link to race management. They should:

  • Be briefed by the race director as to their duties.
  • Be in place long before the expected arrival of the of the first team’s seconding crew and/or the first team.
  • Make certain that their location in the transition area is clearly indicated.
  • Check-in and check-out the seconding teams.
  • Put up the transition notice board with the relevant information (see Transitions above).
  • Check-in and check-out the teams, recording their times.
  • Record any rule infringements to be forwarded to the race director.
  • Notify teams of any course changes – to be read to each team from a piece of paper or handed out to each team captain (see Race Alterations).

Marshals out on the route are extremely important. In the past marshals not in the right place or missing completely have ruined events.

  • A person who has volunteered as a marshal must be informed of exactly what they are to expect, the gear they will need (sleeping bags, shelter, water containers, wet-weather clothing, warm clothing), the environment they will be in and how long they can expect to be out.
  • Marshals should be given maps indicating how to get to their position, a description of the check point, which must be pre-marked with a bright tag by the race director (see Check Points below). A GPS may be helpful in this regard. They must also know from what direction they can expect to see the teams arriving.
  • Marshals should wear distinctive bibs or T-shirts.
  • Marshals must have radio contact with race headquarters where possible.
  • All marshals must speak English.

Marshals have the following responsibilities:

  • Stay at their point until they are relieved by another marshal; the ‘sweeper’ arrives or until all teams are accounted for i.e. all teams have checked-in or teams have been confirmed as retired by the race director.
  • Record the arrival and departure (if different) times of each team, noting the condition of the competitors. All team members must be present.
  • Clearly mark the checkpoint – visible banners during the day and lights at night (Marshals to be sent out with spare batteries).
  • Read any new instructions to the captain of each team or to hand out printed instructions. The marshal should understand the instructions.

 Checkpoints (PC’s)
The function of checkpoints is to guide teams around the race route. They also provide navigational points.

PC’s should not be in the wrong place and should be clearly visible.

  • Setting PC co-ordinates by GPS alone is not adequate. Co-ordinates should be generated from maps using topographical features. GPS co-ordinates can then be used for crosschecking. Race directors should note the degree of error on the GPS.
  • When setting the checkpoints, the race director should tie a brightly coloured tag, labeled with the PC number, to the exact position where the PC should be placed. The marshal manning that point will then be able to confirm the PC location from the tag.
  • At night PC’s must be adequately lit – light sources must be visible from 360°, not uni-directional. Marshals must have spare batteries. If the point is not marshaled, a back-up light should be in place and extra batteries should be attached to the checkpoint. Teams will gladly replace failing batteries.
  • Checkpoints at crucial positions should be manned by reliable marshals.

Checkpoint Terminology

  • Passport Control (PC) or Checkpoint (CP): A navigational point that teams have to locate. A checkpoint will either be unmanned or manned by a marshal. Teams prove that they have been to the checkpoint by punching their race passports in the designated block.
  • Waypoint (WP): A point provided by the organiser to assist and guide the teams along specific sections. A waypoint may indicate a fence crossing, bridge etc. Though the teams do not have to pass this point, it is recommended. There will be neither a punch nor marshal.
  • Orienteering Point (OP): A term occasionally used to indicate that the checkpoint is unmanned. This point must be visited and passports must be punched.


Start and Finish Areas

  • If food is provided at the start teams must be given the option of whether they want food or not.
  • If food is provided it should cater for athletes i.e. fresh fruits, vegetables (sauces separate) and salads (dressings separate). Vegetarians must be catered for. Greasy, oil-laden food is not suitable. An indication of the food to be provided can be included in the pre-race information so that the teams can decide whether the food provided caters to their requirements.
  • A meal provided at the finish gives the racers and seconds a chance to rest, socialise and talk about the event.
  • Showers and ablutions at the start and finish are necessary.
  • The finish line should be setup where the seconds and other teams are positioned so that they can welcome the teams in. Security and safety of equipment and vehicles is often an issue. Seconds waiting for their teams will be reluctant to go to the finish if it is located away from the transition area. Where safety is a problem, security should be provided.
  • A really nice finish area is appreciated e.g. grass, trees, ablutions etc

 The Race

  • The entire route should be pre-tested by the organisers and/or experienced people, either in stages or in one go.
  • The organiser should ensure that the race falls into the category in which it was advertised. If the race is advertised as a 100km event, the race distance must fall within this classification i.e. (95 – 105km). If classified according to time, i.e. 24hr, the upper to middle teams should complete the race in 22 – 26hrs.
  • If an event is billed as being really tough and challenging, then it must be tough and challenging for the top teams. The organiser should be unconcerned with finishing rates.
  • A race billed as easy must be easy. If the race brief states that the winners will complete the course in 7hrs, it should not take them 18hrs to complete the event.
  • Pro and Sport categories at events may deal with the issue of events not being challenging enough for the more experienced teams and the organisers wanting to encourage novices and obtain high finishing rates. Sport categories should have less challenging navigation and should cover a shorter distance.
  • Top teams should always be challenged; other teams should enjoy the event. Even if they drop-out, they will come back.
  • Marshals (and the teams) should not be kept out on the route indefinitely particularly as the gap between the front and the back teams lengthens on multi-day events. Reasonable cut-off times can be applied in the later stages of the race. Back teams can be directed on to a shortened course, allowing them to still ‘complete’ the race.
  • Cut-off times should not be altered without informing all teams. In the past cut-off times have been extended. Teams affected by this change were not informed until after they had decided to withdraw.
  • Equipment checks should be enforced to ensure that the teams are all carrying the specified compulsory equipment. This is for their safety. Penalties should be applied for missing items, disqualifying the team is necessary.
  • Navigation, route choice, team dynamics and cunning strategy prevent adventure racing from being a strictly off-road triathlon. These four factors are seldom present in our races and should be incorporated. Challenging navigation and route choice
  • Navigation should be of a challenging level, especially in races designed for experienced teams.
  • Banned routes should be well indicated in the instructions and must be patrolled to ensure team compliance. Banning of certain route choices should only be for safety reasons and not to force teams into taking a specific route. The location of checkpoints should such that teams need not approach restricted areas.
  • Route choice – teams should have to make a conscious decision regarding the route they’re going to take from one point to another. They should be encouraged to take risks whereby taking a more difficult route could score them an advantage. Terrain, routes and discipline distances should be as diverse and interesting as possible.
  • Technical navigation and route choices should be offered on all disciplines where possible.
  • Rope disciplines should preferably be done in daylight to benefit from the usually spectacular scenery.
  • Water sections, particularly where dark-zones exist, should be planned so that most of the teams will reach and complete most of the section in daylight. This is obviously easier to plan in the early stages of the race. Poor planning can result in a team 20 minutes behind another ending up over 12hrs behind by daybreak.
  • Watercraft provided by the organisers should be suited to the conditions to be experienced.
  • Particularly in the longer races, long sections challenge the teams. But sending them on a mountain bike ride on a dirt road with no route choice for 24hrs is not adventure racing.
  • In shorter races (100km), shorter legs and many transitions keeps the seconds busy as they’re always on the move.
  • While organisers do try to avoid bottlenecks, delays may cause teams to wait their turn to complete a discipline. If the delay time is to be ‘returned’ to the team the marshal will record their time of arrival at the discipline and time of start of the discipline. Clarification on this point should be indicated in the Event Specific Rules. Delays at rope disciplines should be avoided by setting up multiple ropes.
  • Time will not be given back to teams in the case of a dark-zone cut-off.

 The Rules

  • Standard Rules and Regulations as agreed by the race organisers are posted on The relevant organiser will issue Event Specific Rules.
  • Teams who break the race rules should be dealt with immediately and not at the end of the event.
  • Infringements could result in immediate disqualification and removal from the course.
  • Time penalties should be enforced immediately and should not added to the final race time. Teams can wait out the penalty at the transition area – in a “penalty box” – without assistance from their seconds.
  • Seconds are as much a part of the team as the racers. If they breach the race rules penalties should be applied.

Medical assistance is provided at events in case of medical emergencies – not to get the competitors through the event.

Medical Assistance

  • Medical crews will be available for non-emergency medical treatment and consultation within transition areas when available. Any team receiving any form of medical treatment outside a transition area or a medical support area as specified in the race instructions will be disqualified.
  • Medical treatment will be provided to race seconds and staff regardless of their location and at no risk of disqualification to any teams concerned.
  • Medical treatment within transition areas is limited to basic first aid and advice. Should a racer require advanced life support, active fluid replacement therapy (IV), the administration of any oral or intravenous drug, then that racer, subject to the race directors final decision, will be prevented from continuing with the event.
  • The medical crew has the authority, on confirmation with the race director, to withdraw a racer from an event should the racers further participation in the event result in permanent injury, disability or death to the racer or his/her teammates.
  • Racers are obliged to carry the team’s personal medications in the team first aid kit or on the person concerned. The medical crew will not be on hand to supply personal medication should the team concerned have failed to supply their own.
  • The medical crew will provide immediate, emergency treatment and stabilisation. Should a racer require transport by road or air ambulance, the cost of any transport out of the race environment will be carried by the patient
  • Racers are strongly advised to take appropriate insurance against the costs of emergency evacuations and repatriation.

Medical Crews

  • The medical crew should be suitably qualified according to the nature and length of the particular event. (Level of medical qualification, experience, rescue capabilities)
  • The medical crew should be physically fit enough to access and treat and evacuate a racer. Race organisation should provide terrain appropriate vehicular support (4×4’s, watercraft or aircraft).
  • Race Directors and medical crew are to meet prior to the start of the event to discuss the race profile. Access and evacuation routes are to be discussed and decided.
  • The medical crew must be provided with full maps of the race area and must be able to read and use the maps.
  • Racer evacuation plans are to be discussed and decided (Nearest appropriate medical facilities, transport options, medical aid coverage)
  • The medical crew is to advance with the “bulk” of the race.
  • For races exceeding 150km in length, provision must be made to split the medical crew in order to provide immediate medical assistance for racers at the front and rear of the field. Expedition length races should consider multiple, independent medical crews and possibly a central “Field Hospital”.


  • Results should be issued within three days of the race cutoff. Split times should be given for transitions and as many PCs as possible.
  • Team members should be listed with their team name.


  • Prize giving should be held on time.
  • Prize money should be given out at the event or be transferred within a week of the event to the team captain/manager. In the case of the latter, organisers should request banking details at registration.
  • Each team completing the event should receive a memento. Whether a sprint or an expedition event the competitors want to walk away with something that represents the event and their achievement.


  • Disciplines should be cancelled if unsafe i.e. a river section due to rain. The race organiser should have an alternative plan in place in the event of this happening i.e. re-route the teams on a trekking leg. Plan B should be as challenging as Plan A.
  • In severe heat/humidity conditions, water points should be provided to competitors at PCs especially where water is not available on the route. There is a limit to how much water each competitor can carry.
  • Radio contact between marshals, officials and the race director is crucial.
  • On rivers – put-ins, take-outs, portages, weirs, low-level bridges and other hazards (fallen trees, strainers etc) should be indicated in the race instruction booklet.
  • Co-ordinates for crossing points on dangerous rivers should be given if not indicated on map.
  • Helmets and PFD’s should be brought to all events where paddling/rafting/kloofing disciplines exist. While it may not be necessary to wear a helmet whilst paddling across a dam, it certainly is necessary when on a river or in a kloof. PFD’s should be worn at all times. Kayaks have been known to sink in dams, leaving the paddlers treading water for hours. In a kloof a PFD could cushion a fall.
  • Ropes – in all instances qualified personnel should oversee the rope discipline.
  • All rope work should make use of a backup system i.e. a belay or prussik in abseiling.
  • Certification – in most events over 100km first aid and ropes certification is required. These certificates should be checked. The race director reserves the right to prevent those that are not certified from starting the race. No team or individual is exempt. Individuals may request assessment as described below.
  • Certification requirements should be phased in over 2-3 years i.e. medical, rope skills, rafting, water rescue, paddling and perhaps even navigation. This allows race directors to organise more challenging and adventurous races knowing that the participants have the necessary skills.
  • Experience does count e.g. in rope skills. Some competitors have been climbing and performing rope tasks for years. In these cases qualified personnel should assess the individuals for competence.
  • Competency assessment – while some disciplines require the presentation of in-date certificates, others may require competency testing i.e. if there is to be a sea kayaking discipline, the teams’ ability to leave and return to shore should be assessed.
  • Kit checks should take place at each and every event with strict penalties being applied for those teams missing mandatory equipment. A team that goes into the mountains without a shelter or sleeping bag is in danger.
  • Medical backup should be available at positions easily accessible to most teams. Over longer point-to-point races, multiple medical crews should be provided as teams are spread out over hundreds of kilometres.