Good racer in the making

While answering another ‘what is adventure racing?’ question, I mentioned two people and described them as “good racers”. My colleague asked, “What makes them good racers?”. This is a great question because there is a distinction between being a good athlete and a good adventure racer. These are the traits – in no specific order of importance – that top my list.

Getting there

Racing is the easy part; it is getting to a race and preparing for it that is the difficult part. Travel arrangements, equipment lists, accommodation bookings, finances, gear hire, support crew and seconding equipment, food… Good racers share the race-admin load.


Tantrums have no place in my teams; they’re intolerable from two-year olds and unacceptable from adults. How you behave is a conscious decision and it is driven by attitude. You can be tired and pleasant or tired and grumpy – the latter is only applicable to senile octogenarians.

A racing friend recently related an experience he had. After 48hrs of racing his team had not taken much sleep. When he woke his female teammate – a novice – after a too-short two-hour nap she took a while to focus, shook her head and as she sat up she enthusiastically exclaimed, “Awesome!”. They all started laughing and got ready to go again. She chose to have a good attitude and to spread a positive feeling when she could have been a grouch.

Kiwi adventure racer, Nathan Fa’avae describes three key attitudes: composure (keep cool), optimism (nothing is a problem) and perseverance (never, ever give up, no matter how bleak the situation feels).

 No mess, no fuss

The role of your support crew is to transport equipment from one transition to another, to take care of this equipment and to prepare meals. They should not have to clean up after messy adventure racers.

A decade ago I was support for a top team at a 500km race. The one guy, who I’d raced with earlier that year, really stood out for his transition presence. He would come in, efficiently change clothing, eat food handed to him (and ask for seconds), prepare his kit, pack his gear back into his crate and then assist his teammates. He was always ready before everyone else and when he left the transition his crate was closed and his shoes were tucked under his chair.

Transition courtesies

  • Stinky socks and wet clothing should go into plastic bags; your crew will hang them out to dry when they get a chance.
  • Label your clothing with your initials and keep your stuff in your crates; missing kit is your issue.
  • Nasty plasters and old food bags belong in the bin – you can put them there.

Support crew work really hard at races and it is a stressful job to be driving at all hours on unfamiliar roads to get to a transition in good time to prepare food, set up camp and have your equipment ready. Never be grumpy with them, don’t order them around and always thank your crew at each transition for their unwavering support, encouragement and assistance. Good racers have support crew who delight in being their support and good racers take a turn at being crew for others too.

Pack only what you need

Good racers have the experience and forethought to pack clothing and equipment that will be needed and they’re likely to use every item packed during the race. They don’t pack an additional four tees ‘just because’. They don’t waste time in transition rifling through their crates because they know where they’ve put stuff. Their backpacks are organised and they can locate any item without searching every drybag; they know where they’ve put their gear.

Sharing is caring

Good racers share their racing knowledge to teach less experienced racers. They’re happy to answer questions, offer advice about equipment and they may even do a non-competitive event with novices. Some good racers become race organisers.

He ain’t heavy

A good racer communicates openly, especially when it comes to disclosing tiredness, weakness, illness and injury. They’ll hand their backpack to a stronger teammate and they’ll accept the end of a towrope. They help teammates through rough patches, offering a word of encouragement and a pat on the back. They also participate in team decisions and accept the outcome, whether positive or negative.

On the podium

Yes, results have weight too. Good racers may also be good athletes; they race hard, they play fair and they achieve a top placing. Many good racers don’t make the podium, but they’re still good racers.

Again and again

People like racing with good racers. Good racers may have a fixed team or they may hop from one to another depending on the race (venue, duration, disciplines) and their availability. Whatever their team setup, you’ll see them regularly at races.

 Adventure racing is a team sport and as such individuals unite for the greater good of the team. Relationships and interactions affect mood and success. Good racers have a high finishing rate as their experience and outlook carries their team across the line.  And once you’re a good racer? Aim to be a great racer in both attitude and ability.

Author: Lisa de Speville | Published in Go Multi Magazine, January 2011. Issue 14.6

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