By Athlete Ambassador, Brad Jennings of Explore Backcountry
So you’ve heard about Adventure Racing and want to dive into this backcountry endurance sport to find out what it’s all about!? Great! It’s an awesome sport, and you’re going to love it! Getting into the sport can be a little daunting, but if done properly, you’re guaranteed to have a blast and keep racing. I’ve been racing for over 6 years, 3 on an international level, and have learned a few tips and tricks along the way. Here are my 4 essential tips for newcomers to the support.
#1 Start Small
It’s one thing to get amped over the idea of your first adventure race, but it’s another to actually see it through to the end. One way to ensure you’ll cross the finish line in good spirits is to start small and work your way up. Jumping into an expedition length race with little prior experience is not recommended, as you’re likely to crash and burn pretty quickly. Start by aiming to complete a 4-8hr sprint race. These are perfect entry level races that scratch the surface of the AR world. You can work your way up to a 12-24hr race before venturing into the wild world of expedition length races (+72hrs). These races are vastly different in terms of strategy, fueling and difficulty, and only experience at shorter events will give you the necessary skills to effectively tackle them.
#2 Learn the Basics
Traditional AR features 5 distinct disciplines; paddling, biking, trekking, rope work and orienteering with varying combinations and challenges of each (i.e. white-water rafting, mountain climbing). The sprint races typically forego the ropework and added variance, so if you’re new to the sport, concentrate on improving your core AR skills. You’ll want to spend time on a mountain bike and familiarize yourself with technical double track or loose gravel roads, as this is typically what you’ll be riding. Next, head out into the backcountry and improve your bush speed, that is, the speed at which you move off-trail. Often overlooked, bush speed is an integral aspect of AR and requires dedicated training unto itself. Fast trail runs don’t always translate into quick off-trail pushes, so experience is an asset. While you’re out there, work on your orienteering skills, as you’ll need to navigate to checkpoints in a race. Less time going in circles means less energy wasted! Finally, get on the water and work on your paddling. Use kayak blades in a canoe and work on endurance and form. Many AR teams lack strong paddlers, so it’s a great way to chew up some distance and widen that gap!
#3 Accumulate Gear Slowly
It’s no secret AR is an expensive sport. If you’re just starting out, you won’t need to buy all the top-of-the-line gear. Borrowing gear from others is a great way to familiarize oneself with different options. Have a look at what other teams use and ask what works for them. You’ll quickly learn what does and doesn’t work for you, without the disappointment of spending a ton of cash. Save your cash and watch for sales, or cruise websites for gear swaps.
#4 Fuel Properly
Adventure racing is an extreme endurance sport, and the key to successfully completing one is to listen to your body and fuel properly. Races over 48hrs will have your head spinning from sleep deprivation and crazy cravings, but for short races, you can focus on sustaining current output and proper post-race recovery. Fueling on course with Perpetuem and Hammer Bars compliments any whole foods you may crave and sustains your body for maximum performance throughout the duration of the event. When the dust has settled and the race is over, grab some Recoverite to reduce that post AR muscle ache and speed your body’s recovery.