Embrace the unknown

Aside from wilderness navigation, the other element that makes this sport of adventure racing what it is is the unknown, where successful teams and participants are those able to adapt to situations and conditions as they arise.

Pre-race, entrants are provided with lists of compulsory gear and a list of disciplines included in the event. As far as gear goes, you pack compulsory stuff and then add ‘logical’ items to this, like socks, cycle shorts, running shorts, gloves, tees, warm clothing, extra batteries, drybags. So far, so good.

The race location may only be disclosed a week before the race; but upfront you’ll know it is a two to three hour drive from a major centre.

As for distance of legs, order of disciplines and types of maps, you’ll find this out at race briefing when you receive your race instructions. There’s no need to fret about it before you get there because it is out of your control. When you receive the race instructions, then you start planning.

Due to the number of navigation courses I’ve taught recently, I’ve come into contact with more enthusiastic – but hesitant – novices than usual.

A few weeks ago I was caught in a discussion around why he has to take part in a team, and not on his own (he has never done a long race; only sprints). My answer, “Because this is adventure racing, not multisport or triathlon. Adventure racing is a team sport and that’s just how it is”. The extended answer refers to safety, but essentially, adventure racing is a team sport. Full stop.

Tonight, at AR Club, I met a new team and they had some good questions – things I take for granted. But, what I found interesting was the one guy’s questions on knowing everything; the disciplines, the distances, the maps, the location, the equipment to take on each leg…

His enquiry was well founded as he assumed that I’d know the answers because of previous events. But, here again, every race is different even if organised by the same person in the same country. There’s different areas, seasons, distances, disciplines, terrain and topography and number of checkpoints.

I told him not to worry about all of these things, to pack the stuff he is told to in the race instructions and to come prepared for the disciplines included in the race. More than this you just don’t know pre-race so it isn’t worth thinking about it. All is revealed at the race in the briefing and instructions, which will tell him exactly what to do when and what to take – in addition to mandatory gear – on each leg.

The other side to this is not only the pre-race unknown, but also the variable elements within a race that participants have to cope with. Less desirable weather conditions that develop a day into the event, an ill or injured teammate, nasty vegetation, extended hike-a-bike sections, navigational mistakes, tiredness and fatigue, team personalities, spending double the time on a leg than expected, swimming on a paddle leg and losing a paddle, mechanical problems with a bicycle… Teams that cope the best and adapt well to these variables will finish.

The most difficult part of adventure racing is getting to the race: packing, gear, food, support crew, organising people and related admin on top of family, responsibilities and work. Once you’re there, all you have to do is race and eat. It’s nice, very nice, to just have to deal with what is in front of you.

So, make like a river, go with the flow, moving around and over rocks and obstructions. Don’t overthink something outside of your control and embrace the unknown for rewarding (and successful) racing.