Long before there were Spartan Races and Tougher Mudders, there was adventure racing. It’s a world that has fascinated me for many years, but not one I’ve truly dove in to beyond local Urban Dare or Muddy Buddy races.
Abby and I have been blog friends for eons now, I even stayed with her to run the Philadelphia Marathon. Over the years she has blown my mind with the things she can do in an adventure race. She even created an entire TEAM and still does it with a babe in tow!!
For all those reasons, I wanted to share her 5 reasons to get in to this crazy, wild, wonderful sport. Especially for those looking to take their running to the next level with something new.
(1) The Challenge
I love the challenge of a marathon,the physical exertion and the mental stamina required to push yourself through 26.2 miles.
In an adventure race you’re pushing yourself for 4 or 6 or 12 or 24 hours, but the pace is generally slower, there’s more stopping, and the transitions between the various disciplines mean that your muscles don’t fatigue in quite the same way.
That said, though, adventure racing is hard. An adventure race requires competence in multiple disciplines – from technical mountain biking and off-trail bushwhacking to kayaking and climbing. And at least someone on your team has to be reasonably comfortable navigating through the woods with a map and compass.
Adventure racing is as much cerebral as it is physical. It keeps you on your toes – you never know what you might encounter or when and how you’ll have to adapt.
(2) The Team
If one of your favorite things about long runs is the company of running buddies, then adventure racing is for you; an adventure race is like a running date on steroids.
An adventure racing team ranges for two to five people, depending on the event. At the top level, the teams are always coed (more on that later), and everyone has their role.
There’s the navigator.
There’s the cheerleader.
There’s the Jewish grandmother who reminds everyone to eat and drink.
There’s the workhorse, who carries the heaviest gear and grabs your pack when you’re struggling up a mountain.
Sometimes these roles shift throughout the course of a race; sometimes they’re set in stone. These team dynamics can win or lose a race. These are the people with whom you entrust your safety while you’re plodding through the woods looking for that elusive orange flag.
(3) The Food
Unlike marathons, where competitors follow strict fueling guidelines and tend to stick to such delicacies as GU’s and sports beans, adventure racing lends itself to creativity.
As I’m sure you know or can imagine, “performance food” can only take you so far – for me, I’ve found that after about 14 hours of racing, I’m hard-pressed to choke down another bar or gel.
I’ve seen everything out on the race course, from GORP and dried fruit, to Pringles and cheese balls and Poptarts, to mozzarella sticks and pizza. Some of my teammates will stop at McDonald’s the night before (or morning of) a race, and pick up double cheeseburgers to carry around with them in their packs. Brent once ate one 48 hours into a race, and it was still “good.” All of my meat-eating teammates swear by pre-cooked bacon for those middle-of-the-night down moments.
Me? I tend to stick with simpler things, like Philly soft pretzels, green Curious George fruit snacks (which are especially good when they’re handed to you by a teammate to keep you awake during an early morning road bike section), diet mountain dew, cheddar cheese goldfish crackers, PB&J, and canned artichokes.
(4) The Star Status
It’s often said that being a member of the ‘fairer sex’ is a handicap in athletics. Girls are slower, right? They’re weaker. They cry more.
Well, in an adventure race, that’s bunk.
While the sport is far more open now and you can find local races with single-gender and even solo categories, at its core, adventure racing is a coed sport. In order to compete, teams must have at least one woman on their rosters. You may be a little slower and you may end up carrying less gear than your male counterparts.
And yes, you may even cry (Robyn Benincasa, one of the first elite women in the sport, is proud of the fact that she’s cried in almost every race she’s done). But when it comes down to it, you’re the most important person on your team, the MVP. Especially in many of the bigger races, without you, your guys wouldn’t even make it to the starting line.
(5) The Bad-Ass Factor
Seriously, think about how your friends and family will react when you tell them that you spent 6, or 12, or 24 hours running around in the woods.
Think about what they’ll say when you mention the chest-deep river you had to cross, or the bear/moose/snake/alligator/squirrel you came face-to-face with, or the vicious fall you took on your mountain bike, only to climb right back on and take off down the trail.
So what are you waiting for?
Do you have friends who would do this with you?
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