Just What Is Adventure Racing? Once You Find Out You'll Be Hooked!

Rob Howard / 31.07.2020
Exploring your surroundings and finding your way are part of the adventure racing experience / © Rob Howard

What exactly is Adventure Racing? It’s a question adventure racers often get asked ... and it’s not easy to give a simple answer!

At a meeting of UK Race Directors I once said AR could be defined as a sport where “any number of people could do anything, anywhere, for any length of time.”  I was joking, but there was an element of truth there because AR is infinitely flexible and no two races are alike.

So, here’s the more sensible SleepMonsters definition of Adventure Racing.

Adventure Racing is an outdoor endurance sport for teams including a combination of mountain biking, trail running/trekking, paddle sports (kayak/canoe/raft), and map and compass navigation.

  1.  A ‘sprint’ adventure race is from 2-5 hours and a long (expedition) race anything from 3 to 10 days (non-stop). There are many other options in between those two extremes.
  2. Team numbers can vary.  Expedition races have teams of 4, but shorter races often have classes for pairs/threes.
  3. An expedition race would include all of the main disciplines while a sprint race might have only three.  Additional sports and challenges can be included (usually in longer races).

If you are new to AR that definition should give you a good idea what to expect and covers most races.

We also have a couple more articles to help you get a grip of this sport – which is quite unlike any other and can be hard to get your head around! There are links to these at the end.

What is adventure racing?

Two Very Different Videos

We’d also recommend watching the two videos below, which show how varied AR can be.

The ‘What is Adventure Racing’ video from the Adventure Racing World Series lays out the principals of the sport very clearly and shows just how exiting and extreme it can be when racing at the highest level.  Hopefully it will get your juices flowing and you’ll be hooked.

But it could also be misleading and off-putting, because an expedition race can seem unrealistic and unattainable to a beginner.  Not all adventure racing is like that – in fact most of it isn’t!

The second video from FLX Adventures is the other extreme of AR, and this sort of friendly, low key racing, which is more about getting out and having fun, is most likely the kind of experience anyone new to the sport will have. And of course there is a full spectrum of races between these two extremes of AR.

What is Adventure Racing; AR World Series (7 mins)

Intro to Adventure Racing: FLX Adventures (3 mins)

Teamwork is an essential part of adventure racing
Teamwork is an essential part of adventure racing. Photo Rob Howard.

More Than Just A Sport

Finally, it’s worth saying that a simple definition, while helpful, does not come anywhere near close to describing the experience of adventure racing.  It’s a clique, but adventure racing is far, far more than the sum of its parts.

One of our website Patrons, Rootstock Racing, put it like this;

“Unlike most other events in which participants follow a marked course on set roads or trails, adventure racing is a journey in which racers travel an unknown landscape. It is an exploration, an expedition, a scavenger hunt. It has its rules, of course, but this is a sport that rewards creativity, mental ability, teamwork, and experience. It’s not about who is fastest or who is strongest. Adventure Racing is about community and family.

Adventure Racing is story-telling; it’s not about personal records or pace or heart-rate; it’s about the journey, the encounters along the way with people, nature, wildlife, and history. It is about perseverance, overcoming Mother Nature, understanding the land, confronting personal demons and mental challenges, and working together as a team so that everyone crosses the finish line together. 

“Simply put, while adventure racing requires physical training and preparation, it is about more than the body. It is about living life to the fullest and bonding with your teammates and the world around you like you never have before.”

The full article is another great introduction to adventure racing and you can read it at; https://www.rootstockracing.org/what-is-adventure-racing.html

If you want to know more the next articles in this Introduction to AR Series are:

Adventure Racing F.A.Q. (This includes more explanation on the definition above.)

Eight Ways Adventure Racing is Different to (And Better Than) Any Other Sport.

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