Adventure Racing

article003While multi-sport races had been in existence for over 30 years, it was only in the early 80’s that multi-day, multi-discipline competitions evolved. It is no surprise that adventure racing, an infant sport, matured in New Zealand, a country well known for its adventure activities and mountainous, rugged terrain.

But, it wasn’t until 1987 when French journalist and adventurer, Gerard Fusil, conceived his version of a non-stop, multi-sport, multi-day adventure. His idea was to organise an adventure competition for five-person teams, including at least one woman, who must start and finish the races as one unit, using only physical and mental strength. They would have to navigate, selecting routes between checkpoints and traversing hundreds of kilometres. In 1989 the first Raid Gauloises was held in New Zealand and adventure racing was born.

Going the distance
Classic (+200km) and expedition (+400km) events represent “true” adventure racing; events covering vast distances and many days. In 2001, sprint (15-30km) and short-course (65-100km) events were introduced as a stepping-stone to multi-day racing. Less intimidating and inexpensive, these races are just as challenging.
Although there is no rule that says you’ve got to start at the bottom and work your way up, a shorter event conveniently tests your team dynamics and serves to fine-tune your preparation for longer races i.e. training, skills, gear and food.

Paired-up, three’s company & four play
Traditionally, adventure racing teams comprise four team members, one of which must be of the opposite sex. With the launch of sprint events in 2001, teams of three were introduced and recently, pairs have become an accepted category at most events. While a paired team is easy to co-ordinate, merging four individuals into a united team with identical ambitions is challenging. This format reflects the true essence of this sport: teamwork and team dynamics.

Desperately seeking
For many, half the battle is finding like-minded individuals, of comparable fitness, to join them. If blackmailing friend, relatives and people in your sport clubs has failed, try the SA adventure racing mailing list (see, a discussion forum. Like you, there are many other adventurous souls looking for teammates. Either send an email to the group or respond to one of the many postings. When looking for partners, remember to include the following in your email:

  • Event you’re interested in
  • Where you live
  • Your AR experience
  • Your objective e.g. “Social athlete wanting only to cross the finish line before cut-off”Choose your team-mates wisely, considering the following:
  • Do you have similar fitness levels?
  • Do they have strengths and skills you lack?
  • Do you have the same objective?
  • Do they live nearby so that you can meet and train together?
  • Do you get along?Finding an ideal team combination takes time and with experience you’ll learn what works best.Unfit, uncertain and a little daunted?
    If you are procrastinating, waiting until you are “fitter” before entering an event, you’ll never get around to experiencing the adventure in pushing your bike through dense vegetation, ploughing through thorn bushes and swimming in icy water. For all but the top teams, the challenge is about locating each checkpoint and reaching the finish, not charging through the course. AR is about endurance – being able to go the distance physically and mentally.  
    Don’t be put off by the distances. Remember that a 200km race is made up of about 120km mountain biking, 20km paddling and 60km on foot, each distance divided into shorter stages. Also, alternating disciplines, route choice and diverse terrain add variety.
    While short-course, classic and expedition events are not child’s play the finish line is attainable. And, with experience, your fitness and skills will improve.
  • Alternative options
    Are you an injured racer or supportive friend? Seconding for a team or marshalling at an event is another way to get involved in this sport. As a support crew member, you’ll experience the camaraderie in the transition areas and as a race marshal, you’ll get to be out in the field, welcoming the tired teams arriving at your checkpoint.And?
    Whether you’re a serious athlete or weekend warrior, year-round there are events to suit you. This is one sport where taking the journey is more significant than reaching the finish. “It’s not just about sport, it’s about passion.”

     Author: Lisa de Speville | Published in MultiSport Magazine, Aug/Sept 2003