Committing to your first multi-day adventure race

Expedition Africa 2017, zip lining, adventure racing, Baviaanskloof

Expedition Africa 2017. Photo: Bruce Viaene

When out-of-shape adults take up running for its fitness and weight loss benefits, they often focus on Comrades Marathon as their goal. Water-inclined choose Midmar Mile; cyclists look to Cape Cycle Tour and multi-discipliners up the stakes with IRONMAN. Why then do these same people not consider an expedition style adventure race?

Adventure sprint races were first introduced in 2001 to entice participants into the sport. It was hoped that these bite-sized events would give participants a taste of the sport, without much commitment in the way of training, proficiency, time, equipment and money. What we didn’t consider is that the all-out pace of these short 2-4 hour events would be extrapolated to multi-day races; it’s little wonder that adventure sprinters think: “I could never keep this up for three days!”.

But the truth is, you can do absolutely anything you set your mind to. And it’s often in the events that take us to the edge and back that we come most alive. Want in?

Merrell Adventure Addicts, Graham Bird, trekking, trekking tips, adventure racing

Merrell Adventure Addicts leader Graham Bird on a trekking leg at the Costa Rica Adventure Racing World Championship 2013. Photo: Nacho Cembelin

My challenge to you

I challenge you to make an expedition style adventure race your sporting objective for the year.

Expedition Africa is the pinnacle adventure race to tackle in  South Africa, and is also a qualifying event for AR World Championships (it’s okay to dream big). It will take place along the exquisite West Coast from 10-27 May 2018.

Entries open 15 August, and are limited to 50 teams.

You’ve got eight months save disposable income and to get ready, using other distance events on the adventure racing calendar in preparation. Here are some ideas:

Lilyfontein Adventure Race (1-2 September 2017)

Vasbyt Expedition Race (5-11 November 2017)

Kinetic Full Moon Adventure (9-10 September or 10-11 November 2017)

Merrell Adventure Addicts, Graham Bird, trekking, trekking tips, adventure racing, Expedition Africa 2016

Merrell Adventure Addicts. (Left to right) Graham Bird, Grant Ross, Tatum Pris, Donovan Sims at Expedition Africa 2016. Photo: Peter Kirk

Steps to signing up for an adventure race

1. Tell the World

Verbalising objectives cements your commitment. Tell your friends and family that you’re going to do a multi-day adventure race, soon.

2Phone a friend

Recruit friends to join you on this adventure. Adventure racing is a team sport and although pairs are often allowed, novices are less likely to finish if they enter the pairs category. Go for the full four-person team experience and you’ll have a better finishing prognosis. And if you can’t find a female team member to make up a mixed-gender team, enter an all-male team. Rather be there than miss out.

3Become proficient

Familiarise yourself with the sport’s primary disciplines: running/trekking, mountain biking, paddling, navigation and rope skills. You do not need to be an expert, just proficient and comfortable.

Feel comfortable riding your mountain bike for a good six hours (or more). Get to the point where you’re stable in a double kayak on a dam. Since you are not required to be river graded, if you do end up on a river with rapids, you’ll be in stable, inflatable two-man rafts.

Navigation skills are acquired with a little practise. Alternatively, ensure one of your recruited teammates can read a map. Rope skills are easy to learn and you are supervised at races. Visit a climbing gym and learn to go down, up and across ropes.
Participation in single discipline events will build your confidence.

Team Cyanosis, Raid Gallaecia 2017, adventure racind, ARWC 2017, Clinton Mackintosh

Team Cyanosis show their grit during a cold and wet MTB leg at Raid Gallaecia 2017. This was an expedition race in Spain where Cyanosis manged to place seventh overall. Photo: Enrique Blanco

4. Train… a bit

Some people run Comrades in six hours; others cross the finish line in 11. They both finish. How fit is ‘fit enough’? Just enter the damn race. But if you spend the next eight months on the couch, you will have very sore feet and legs and bum and back and…

Merrell Adventure Addicts, Graham Bird, trekking, trekking tips, adventure race, ARWC 2013

The importance of a trusty headlamp in an adventure race! Graham Bird treks through the night at the ARWC 2013 in Costa Rica. Photo: Andreas Standh

5Acquire equipment

Borrow from friends, hire where you can and purchase personal equipment as you go along, like adding one item a month to your race crate over the next couple of months. You can manage quite adequately with basics; I still do.

6. Reading is required

No question is a stupid question… unless it has already been answered in one of the many informative articles on South Africa’s adventure racing website,

Here’s some articles you’ll find useful:

A South African’s guide to starting adventure racing

Merrell Mentors: master the art of trekking

When trail running and adventure racing meet

See you at the next race?


Originally published by Lisa de Speville in Go Multi issue 13.2 (May/June 2009)


Other articles posted in this period

About Lisa de Speville

Adventure racing author, athlete and founder of FEAT (Fascinating Expedition ad Adventure Talks) and, Lisa is keenly interested in anything related to outdoor adventure, especially orienteering and trail running.

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