I’m hardly an adventure racing pro, but I know what I’m about, and I have a good time. In the adventure races I’ve done over the last decade, ranging from 3 hours to 72 hour events, I've learned a few things that I'm going to share with you.
Here’s a quick rundown of my ideas that may increase your chances of successfully surviving your first adventure race.
Your First Adventure Race: 20 Quick Tips for Success
In no particular order (except for the first one)...
1. Don’t Die
It only makes sense to put the most obvious tip first: try not to die.
I suppose we could include "don't get injured" in here too. DNF’ing is no fun.
2. Eat and Drink
Race day nutrition and hydration is a must. You might be able to skip making calories a priority during a shorter 3-4 hour event, but I certainly wouldn't recommend it for anything longer.
Whatever you ate while training (because you did train...) should work fine on race day. Don't overthink it, just eat (and drink).
(and remember to waterproof your M&M's!)
Related post: Adventure Race Nutrition: How to Fuel to Avoid the Bonk
3. Lube Everything
Lube, lube, lube. Body glide, Rungoo, Trail toes, Chamois butter, whatever you prefer.
Put it on, put it on everything you care about, and reapply as needed. Chafing hurts, extreme chafing can get infected.
Maybe one day I'll tell you about a cyclocross injury I got from chafing in my undercarriage that required a visit to the urgent care (poor doctor). But until then, know this: you've got to lube.
4. Choose Your Teammates Well
Being at the same general fitness level as your teammates is a huge plus, but more than that, make sure you’re comfortable with your teammates.
Experienced racers might be able to get away with racing with relative strangers, but for your first race, you’re going to want to know how your teammates react and respond.
Things can go south quite quickly in AR. Avoid hot-heads. You’re here to have fun, not deal with temper tantrums.
Related post: How to Find an Adventure Racing Team (Or Start One Yourself)
5. The Gear You Have Will Work, Unless it Wont
You absolutely don’t need top of the line gear, but if the bike you pulled out of the dumpster suddenly snaps, or the backpack you stole from your kid randomly falls apart, you’ll understand why well thought out gear is good gear.
Know your gear, practice and train with your gear before race day.
Related post: A Complete Adventure Racing Gear List for Beginners
6. Basic Navigational Skills are a Must
Sure, fitness matters, but we recommend brushing up on basic navigational skills before your first adventure race. At the very least, know which side of the map is north.
Getting temporarily misplaced is part of the fun of adventure racing, but having Search and Rescue come find you is a drag.
Not sure where to start? We recommend checking out Mark Lattanzi's site.
7. Expect the Unexpected
Kind of like life. Anything can happen on course, learn to roll with it. Hopefully you know how to fix a flat tire so you can keep rolling with it.
8. Everything Mother Nature Created is Out to Get to You
Well, maybe not everything, but for every cute little squirrel, bunny or beaver you see, there's a goddamn copperhead, mountain lion or alligator you can't see.
Flowers, plants, same thing! Race directors are great at finding patches of pricker bushes and devils walking sticks for you to go through, or waist deep blackwater with zero visibility. In short: be aware of flora and fauna.
9. Wear Gloves
Consider wearing gloves for the entirety of your first adventure race. Gloves are obviously certainly useful for paddling and mountain biking. But gloves will also help protect your hands when you attempt to stop a faceplant on that hidden cypress knob.
You also never know if the RD is going to have some ropes for you to climb.
10. Don't Skip the Chamois Pad
For a sprint AR, not wearing any sort of padding in your shorts is not a huge deal. But for any race over 8 hours, you're gonna want to pad your tush and nether regions.
Please just trust me on this, you don't want to see pictures of hard lessons learned.
As to what kind of chamois pad? It depends. Some people find a minimal triathlon chamois sufficient, while others prefer full on padded bike shorts. Your experience may vary - so test them out.
11. Have Fun
This should actually be the second most important reason, but as mentioned, this list was written in no particular order. But having fun during your first adventure race (and every race after that) really is key.
You signed up for this race because it sounded fun, so keep that good vibe through your event.
Sure, you may have some low points during your race, but always try to keep a positive outlook and learn to laugh at (while learning from) any mistakes and uncontrollable events.
12. Leave Your Ego at Home
This rule should apply to society as a whole. In AR though, you really just never know what the hell is going to happen.
It's good to have confidence in your own ability, but know there is always somebody faster, smarter and fitter than you. But also know everyone makes mistakes - and they ultimately only help you improve.
Chuck any ego, but stay confident in yourself.
13. Check your Assumptions
This may feel like a repetition of #12, but I mean check your assumptions about the race itself. Just because you know where the course is does not mean you know where the RDs are going to bring you.
With local events it's really easy to look at a map and predict where you might go. But RDs are sneaky! They may find routes you don’t know about, maybe they’ll have you trek on what looks like a perfect mountain biking single track, and you can’t always predict which direction you’ll be paddling, up or downstream.
If you do know the general idea of the event, it is a nice advantage, but everything changes when the RD gives you a map and CPs.
14. Just Because you Can Doesn't Mean you Should
Wow, another one that kind of relates to life in general.
Try to look at all of your options when it comes to mid-race decisions. Will this choice save your team time? At what cost? This can be crucial.
Hammering up and down hill because it's a shorter line can leave the team tired and moving slower in the long run. Perhaps circumnavigating makes more sense?
Maybe the map makes it look like you can bike-whack through this half mile swamp. But what the hell is living in that swamp? Can your team carry their bikes through that? A safer route around may be the way to go. Risk vs Reward, that's the name of the game.
15. Wear a Non-GPS Watch
Most adventure races do not allow any sort of GPS device, including watches, as they can give you an advantage when it comes to navigation.
But you’re going to need to know what time it is, and you can use your watch to help determine how far you’ve traveled.
So unless you have 800 bones to dish out for one of those fancy new Garmins with Adventure Racing Mode, you'll want to get a non-GPS watch.
(Heather uses a $20 Casio digital watch, and I race with a Suunto Core that has an altimeter, but no GPS).
16. Dress for Success
Having the right clothing can really make a difference. Being too hot or too cold is not only uncomfortable, it can also be dangerous. Also know that you may not be constantly moving for the duration of your event. You may have to stop to navigate, fix a flat, anything. Dress smart.
If you feel like crap, tell your team. If you feel great, tell your team. If you're navigating, tell the team what you’re all looking for. Also, don’t be shy about sharing deep scary secrets. Make it awkward out there, keep your teammates sharp.
At the end of the day your event should be all about having fun. Use common sense, but also find resources if you have questions, the RD will be able to answer, but also look to online forums as needed. The AR community is incredibly helpful and encouraging!
18. Follow the rules
Follow the rules of the race! Wear your PFD and wear your helmet. This will prevent you from getting penalized or even DQ'd, and it only makes sense.
Follow any other rules established by the race director, such as adhering to (and staying off of) out of bounds areas or roads, and using mandatory road crossings.
The RD's aren't trying to ruin a good time, they are trying to keep you safe (see tip #1: don't die.)
19. Stay Together
Remember, this is a Team Sport (unless you are a Solo racer). Keep your team together! Staying within a certain distance of each other (usually 100 yards or less) is almost always a part of the rules of an adventure race.
Don't skimp out and leave someone on the side of the trail while you go bushwack to the CP. Don't leave your teammates a mile upstream while take a creek to the CP. You signed up as team, hold to that.
20. ALWAYS HAVE THE MAP
Don't leave the map at the boat, don't leave the map on the bike. DONT.LEAVE.THE.MAP.
We hope these quick tips help you successfully complete your first adventure race (or if nothing else, brought you a few moments of entertainment. For more posts, be sure to visit the Adventure Racing for Beginners page, or check out some of our Adventure Racing Training Tips!