Start adventure racing

Red Bull Defiance, adventure race, trekking, start adventure racing

Team Skins Suunto, Alex Hunt and Daniel Jones perform at the 2017 Red Bull Defiance. Photo: Red Bull Content Pool.

What is AR?

Looking to start adventure racing? Then this is exactly what you will be getting yourself into:

Adventure racing is ultimate race of human endurance. Teams of four athletes race non-stop, day and night, through courses up to 800km in length. Each course is a unique journey, including legs of mountain biking, trail running, kayaking, and rope work. Teams must navigate using map and compass through remote wilderness checkpoints. They battle not only other teams, but extreme fatigue, sleep deprivation and unpredictable weather. If one team member quits, the entire team is unclassified. Often just reaching the finish line is a victory.” AR World Series   

What makes AR cool?

The ‘can-do’ nature of adventure racing means that AR occurs throughout the year, in nearly all conditions. Tatum Prins from the Merrell Adventure Addicts finds AR particularly appealing as a multisport athlete: “I don’t think there’s anything quite like it. It encompasses so many different sports, which is incredible.” It’s a team sport so you would do well to start going to watch events in your area (see below), networking with people there, and getting yourself invited to AR meetings (yep, they’re a sociable bunch). Once you find a group you connect with, you’ll find motivation… and invaluable support is now yours! 


Although international elite AR is arguably the biggest budget-breaker in endurance sport, there’s no need to be intimidated at the entry level. To start adventure racing you’ll need a mountain bike, hydration pack and running gear to get into the sprint events. A lot of the events taking place in South Africa do include kayaks as part of the entry fee so no need to worry about hiring and transporting one.

It’s only the bigger events that require some investment in better hiking gear, cold weather clothing, and possibly trekking poles and canoeing and climbing equipment. Racing the big international by-invite-only events could set each team member back more than R50,000, while a beginner’s Sprint AR will cost you less than R100 if you already have the basic gear. There’s something for everyone in between too.

Adventure racing, mountain biking, X-Berg Challenge. start adventure racing

Expect the unexpected when you start adventure racing. X-Berg Challenge 2017. Photo: Linda Wilemse.


Training for novices

Be patient with your preparation. See it as a journey rather than a destination. Ease into your running by doing 2-3 weekly jogs of less than 3km at a time. Include walking in this mix. Joining a hiking club is a good idea to get offroad mileage, and meet new people at the same time.

Do some of your riding on the road (your long distance slow riding), with occasional MTB rides to keep your technical skills sharp. Weekly strength training will improve your core strength, either at a gym or using suitable weight repetitions, press-ups and pull-ups at home.

Should you progress further, the longer 250km+ events may require at least 10 hours a week of running, hiking, biking and strength preparation. Former adventure racer and current OCR athlete Greg Avierinos shares some useful advice for multisport athletes looking to balance strength and cardiovascular training. Beginners will get by with little or no training for sprint events provided they have a reasonable base from individual sports like running or cycling.

Fuel yourself

Red Bull Defiance, adventure race, kayaking, start adventure racing

Competitors during the kayak leg at the 2017 Red Bull Defiance in Wanaka, New Zealand. Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

What you eat during races all depends on a) the duration of the race and b) your personal preferences. The golden rule of race food is to pack food you like, can get down and keep down; and avoid too many sweeties and sweetened foods.

On a sprint race, which is usually 25-35km and will take you 2-4hrs to complete, bars and gels will see you through. A banana with your race stuff at the central transition will go down well too. A short course race of 50-75km will take the bulk of the day and it’s a good idea to bring in some real food like sandwiches and boiled baby potatoes with a sprinkle of salt – the latter are a personal favourite.

When it comes to hydration, you may be overwhelmed with information about “how much is enough”. Inspired by the research of sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, MD, we have revealed detailed hydration tips to help endurance athletes find the right balance.

Once races start going into 24hrs it is nice to have at least one decent meal, in addition to sandwiches and munchie bag containing dried fruit, nuts, seed bars, salty crackers, crisps and other palatable treats. Races over 24hrs usually have support crew – they’ll provide the meal.’

Red Bull Defiance, adventure race, mountain biking, start adventure racing

It’s all about the team. Competitors ride across farmland during the MTB stage of the 2017 Red Bull Defiance in Wanaka, NZ. Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

Pro tips

  • Is a teammate lagging behind on a trekking stage? Encourage them to walk ‘in your footsteps’, right behind you. This keeps them close; they focus on placing their feet in your footsteps so their fatigue is mostly forgotten and; being back with the team, their pace will pick up. A tow rope or lanyard tied to your backpack will help to keep them close too – and you’ll find that they probably won’t pull much once they get into a rhythm.
  • Before each race – yes, before you confirm your team members and entry – discuss your goals and objectives for that race. Is your objective to listen, learn, observe and experience or are you aiming to go as hard as possible to see where you end up. Make sure your objectives are common and agreed upon pre-race. Look at some events for learning and others for racing. Graham Bird from the Merrell Adventure Addicts makes it clear that the intention should not be to find team members of similar fitness, but similar mindsets.
  • If you find yourself paddling a sit-on-top kayak at night, in winter, when temperatures are near freezing (or sub-zero!), climb into a heavy duty black garbage bag to protect your legs from ice-cold splashes of water coming off your paddle.


paragliding, X-Berg, X-Berg Challenge, Drakensberg, Jeremy Holdcroft

Paragliding at the 2017 X-Berg Challenge. Photo: Jeremy Holdcroft

The only one way to find out if this sport is for you, is to get out there and start adventure racing!

The AR World Series is the pinnacle of the sport and culminates each year in the AR World Championships, which has has been won for the last three years by Team New Zealand Seagate. South Africa was well represented in 2016 when Team Sanlam Painted Wolf placed fourth.

In order to qualify for the World Championship teams must place in the top two, or be the first all national team (all members from the same country) to finish in any of the qualifying events throughout the year. Qualifying events take place all over the world, and one of these events, Expedition Africa, is hosted in South Africa, in the Baviaanskloof Wilderness area in the Eastern Cape.

For those looking to start adventure racing with smaller budgets and perhaps a little less experience there are a number of events available which may be of more interest and which are not as long and challenging. Visit Kinetic and Ndorfin for such events.

For those really just wanting a taste of what adventure racing can be all about, check out Quantum Adventures and Dirty Boots  for smaller events.

Schools Adventure Racing enables younger athletes to start adventure racing too, with an SA Schools Adventure Racing Championship taking place each year to crown the fittest young adventurers in the country. 

So why start adventure racing?

Team Sanlam Painted Wolf ARWS 2016

John Collins, Andre Gie, Mark Collins, Robin Owen at the finish of what for most was the toughest four days of their lives. Photo: Terence Vrugtman / Adventure Life.

Mark Collins from Team Sanlam Painted Wolf sums it up perfectly: We live in a time of unprecedented ease of life. In the modern day as a human being as much as we’ve evolved to look after ourselves and take care of ourselves, I think there’s (this thing) inside of us that needs to be pushed to that edge. Food tastes different, music sounds different, everything sounds crisp and essential when you’ve been taken to the edge and back. And I think that’s why people do do a lot of things like this that take you to the edge and back, to be able to taste life in its fullness.” 

For all things AR visit:

Adventure Racing

Sleep Monsters



Other articles posted in this period

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If you love fitness, the outdoors, good health, nutritious food, travelling to new and exciting destinations, then Go Multi is the site for you. Our slogan "Life's too short for one sport!" echoes what our readers already do or would like to learn to maximise their endurance, health, nutrition and longevity. We're a South African endurance fitness site with a global message: fitness is smart and health is the greatest wealth. Our articles and advertising partners help to educate, encourage, equip and enable our readers, subscribers and advertisers to maximise their lives through increased fitness, improved health, superior nutrition and best value for their money. We avoid producing or passing on empty commercial messages that don't contribute to their advancement. Our dedicated team produces and shares the very latest information for our readers to use in practical ways to enhance their daily lives. Everything we do, we do to produce better, fitter, longer and happier lives as well as giving our 100% to ensure our business is sustainable, ethical, fair and excellent in every respect.

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