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Adventure Racing Tips

Adventure Racing Tips

Knowledge is the result of putting experience to good use (or, in our case, disastrous experiences!) So, here you will find our tips for adventure racing, which is based on things which have gone wrong, or things we wished we’d done during previous races. It’s basically a compendium of the lessons learned section at the end of our race reports. So, they’re all real, and all beneficial!

Race Preparation

A lot of mistakes can be avoided prior to the race with a bit of preparation, particularly in the kit you bring along to the race. All races (well, all that we have done) have a mandatory list of equipment which you should definitely bring.

1. Have a good dinner the night before.

A carb-rich meal the night before a race is always a good idea, with pasta always being a good option. Beers also contain a lot of carbohydrates. That slow burning energy will help pull you through the day.

2. Have a good brekky.

Well, they say it is the most important meal of the day! A good breakfast before the race will hopefully stop those hunger pains half way through, and give you a bit more energy.

3. Bring Coffee!

While there are quite often coffee vans around the race HQ, it’s always a good idea to bring a thermos, just in case - you don’t want to be off to a non-coffee start!

4. Bring Gu!

Gu is good! Some races (okay, the AROC series) generally give teams a satchel of Gu in their showbags. But it’s good to bring your own, just in case!

Biking

1. Carry tubes & tool kit

It would be fantastic to have indestructible bikes, which never got flat tyres or any other problems associated with a race; but things do go wrong with bikes, particularly on adventure races where you can ride through various terrain (including puddles up to the crossbar!) Like everything, Murphy’s Law holds for bikes, particularly in adventure races; no doubt something will happen to your bike, and it will happen when you are as far out as you can possibly be! And nobody ever seems to know at such times just what the organiser’s policy is in fitting two people on a bike...

So far, we’ve had one puncture and one broken chain, neither of which we were prepared for at the time. Fortunately, in the case of the puncture, other teams were happy to lend us a kit, and in the case of the broken chain, we were close enough to the end of the bike leg to just tow and coast the broken bike. One of the TriHards was unhappy with his brakes during the Lake Macquarie race, so we made a quick adjustment to that - which was very fortunate as the next section of the ride included some big downhill work!

The key here is to be prepared; carry a toolkit on your bike which contains (at the very least) a spare tube, puncture repair kit (because, like some unfortunate teams in the Sydney 08 AROC, you may have multiple punctures) and a multitool to cover many eventualities. You may look like a hero running to the finish with a broken bike on your shoulder, but it’s a lot of hard work (and much slower!)

2. Remember your helmet!

The Cyborg is prone to this one! Perhaps it’s a subconscious attempt to have another big prang and get some more titanium reinforcement put into his body. It’s easy to focus on the mandatory equipment list and forget the basics, so remember to have your own list - and put your helmet on your bike (he’s done it about three times now!).

3. Check your bike

The TriHards are notorious for keeping up to date with maintaining and checking their bikes, some of which only ever get a run at race time. It’s a good idea to check over your bike in the week prior to the race; that’ll give you plenty of time to fix any last minute glitches before the race (instead of trying to do it that morning!)

4. Put a water bottle on

Adventure racing is hot, hard work, particularly over the spring/summer period; and consumption of Gu requires almost immediate consumption of water! A good little trick is to freeze a water bottle the night before and put it into your bike cage so that it’s ready to go when you hit the bike leg. It’s not always guaranteed when the bike leg will occur in a race, but it’s nice to know there’s a fresh bottle of cold water waiting with your bike!

5. Be street legal

You never know where you’re going to go in an adventure race; you may well wind up on the streets. So you should make sure your bike is street-legal for the area you’re racing in. This generally involves ensuring you have at least a bell and front and rear reflectors on your bike.

Rogaining

1. Be your own leader.

Pretty much every rogaining and adventure racing site will tell you: don’t follow other teams. You may see others who are wearing heaps more lycra than you, with mapboards on their bikes, and looking very serious. None of that means they know where they’re going; or they could be taking that little shortcut which involves doing that 5m jump over a 100m canyon, which they’re happy with... At any rate, run your own race, and don’t follow other people.

2. Plan your course.

sample rogaine map

There are a few hours in between registration where you pick up the maps and the start of the race. Make use of these. Determine a good course and check and double-check it. Rogaining maps have a lot more information than a standard topo map; they not only show you contours of hills, but the vegetation and ground conditions. Use this information to set up an easy course, rather than taking a million scrubby shortcuts can save you lots of time in the end. We started our adventure racing efforts in just trying to make it from checkpoint to checkpoint, having an overall plan has proved to be much more beneficial.

3. Mark your map.

Mark the course you intend to take on your map; and copy the checkpoint descriptions on to the map. This will save having to pull out the descriptions as you approach each checkpoint.

4. Get a map case.

Sure, sure, you can just contact your map, and that’ll work unless, of course, you’re like the TriHards and manage to contact a fold into the map, resulting in a "hidden valley" of checkpoints! Map cases are great, they’re really waterproof (yes, we’ve swum with them), and you can put your map on one side, and course notes on the other for easy reference.

5. Secure your control card.

You control card is your ticket to finish the race; if you lose it, well, you’ll lose the race! You can still complete the race without it, just for fun, but it does tend to take a bit of lustre from the event. So, make sure you have it secure, and preferably waterproof. We use a dry canister - you can get them from dive shops; totally watertight, with lanyards so that you can attach it to yourself, and much easier to get your control card out of than a map case and the like.

Though, you want to make sure it’s firmly attached before diving in at the start of a swim leg...

6. Get a good navigator.

The TriHards have Mr GPS. Having a good navigator is almost like cheating in an adventure race. It makes a tremendous difference (just not getting lost make a huge difference in a race).

7. Take turns at checkpoints

If you let one person have the role of navigator, then you have two other team members who are free to run the last few metres to the checkpoint and check the control card. This means the navigator, and one team member can have a bit of a breather, if only for a few moments, and confirm the route to the next checkpoint. It does help, and you should check the rules of your race (AROC races require everyone to go to within 10m of the checkpoint).

8. Give up quick.

You should familiarise yourself with the rules associated with the rogaine leg. Do you have to get all of the checkpoints? What are their values? Sometimes, if you can’t find a checkpoint, it’s easier to just give up on it and move on, rather than waste 30 minutes looking for it. Particularly if (a) you can make up points on other checkpoints and (b) it’s only worth a 10 minute penalty and you’ve already spent five minutes looking for it.

Paddling

1. Bring Gu!

Gu is paddle fuel. Unless the paddle leg is first, it’s always a great idea to fuel up on a bit of Gu at the start of the paddle leg - but make sure you wash it down with heaps of water.

2. Use intense bursts.

Kayaks - especially those in the form of bathtubs - have a cruising speed. You can work as hard as you want, and they will just kind of max out at a certain pace. So, particularly for longer legs, it’s a good idea to just get to your cruising speed, and settle into a good rhythm. Every now and then (particularly if you’re overtaking) put on a burst for, say, 20 strokes, just to punch ahead again for a while, then settle back to your cruising speed. We’ve done this in a few races, and it works exceedingly well.

3. Practice!

If you’re going in a race, such as the AROC, with three-man bathtubs, going out for a practice paddle is an excellent idea. It’ll help you find your rhythm and your capabilities. Put the weakest paddler, or the best pacer - depending on how good you are all at paddling - at the front of the kayak to set the stroke. Put your best steering paddler at the back so that you can steer using sweep strokes, rather than a stern rudder (resistance steering).

4. Nice, even strokes.

Don’t push too hard on your strokes; use your whole body (rotate your torso, don’t pull the blade with your arms) so that you don’t just wear out your arms. People have a tendency to paddle harder on their stronger side (normally right), this will cause the kayak to constantly drift left, making the steering much harder for the poor paddler in steerage. If you concentrate on nice, even strokes, you reduce wear on yourself and your poor pilot...

5. Work as a team.

Sure, everyone gets tired and needs a break. If you have to stop paddling for a few moments, let your team know so that they can take up the slack a bit. Once a kayak is going, it’s relatively easy to maintain a cruising speed-the acceleration is the hard bit. So, give everyone a chance to keep the cruise going while you’re having a break.

6. Think before you leap!

In the course of some races, a paddler will have to jump out to run or swim to a checkpoint. Make sure that person has the control card and map before you start paddling, otherwise you’ll have a bit of fuss when you get there to organise it. These are some of the things you should make note of when you’re planning your route at the start of the race.

General Tips

1. Packing.

Packing is under-emphasised discipline of adventure racing! How you pack your gear around you on the race does make a difference. Having your food stash in your hydration pack is not going to help you during the race; you’ll either have to stop and take off your backpack to get it, or get a team-mate too. Throwing these things into pockets of cargo-shorts, or a hip-bag makes them much easier to access during the race.

2. Bring sunscreen!

Bring sunscreen! Wear sunscreen! Races go for about five hours, during which time you’ll be running through scrub, possibly swimming and almost certainly sweating! So bring a small bottle with you to reapply during the race. And remember things like the backs and fronts of your legs (you’ll regret not doing your shins after half an hour in the midday sun on a sit-on-top kayak!)

3. Try your gear first!

It’s never a good idea to try out new gear on race day! There’s nothing worse than having a brand-spanking new pair of really cool adventure racing cargo shorts, only to discover during the race that everything in the bottom pocket bangs into the side of your knee every time you take a step! (Okay, there are worse things than that; such as chafing...) Put all your gear on when you take the dog for a walk to give it a good test run.

What’s that? You don’t have a dog? How could you not have a dog - the ultimate adventure race training companion? Go on, get a dog! They’re great fun, always happy for a run, and always happy to see you. Just be careful if you take them for a ride!

Make sure you can secure all of your gear to yourself and have a place for everything. So, the control card is quick and easy to access, but waterproofed and won’t go missing halfway through a race. Make sure you can find a comfortable place to put the map case, so if you have a swim leg it doesn’t wind up dragging around your throat!

4. Take breaks.

It’s a good idea to take a few five minute breaks during the race. Stop, maybe sit down, eat some food, and have a good break. It’ll refresh you, and help you continue. Just five minutes here and there may well help give you the boost to finish the race.

5. Take care of pain immediately!

One of the TriHards neglected a bit of pain in his feet during a race, only to find he no longer had heels at the end! It took a few weeks for all that skin to grow back. If you’re feeling pain, stop and look after it immediately. Sure, we’d all like to be heroes and run through the finish line with our arms hanging by bits of skin from our shoulders, but if you can’t work how can you pay for your next adventure race?

Other resources

There are plenty of sites around on the web which will give you a lot of info and tips for adventure racing. Check out the AROC tips page and the Rapid Ascent tips page.

Well, that’s about it for our tips. Feel free to email us if you have some more.