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There’s No ‘I’ in Adventure Race Team

“There’s no ‘I’ in Adventure Race Team” by Jim Farmer

Looking to recapture the team spirit from those bygone days on the track team or football squad? Looking to relive the unparalleled joy of winning as a team? Looking to get dirty and banged up in the process? If you answered yes to the first two questions, ignore the last one for now, then adventure racing is for you. So what if you might end up with a few bruises, filthy shoes and a mouthful of dirt. You can take solace in the fact that your teammates, and everyone else in the race for that matter, will have them also.

What’s an adventure race? I’m glad you asked. Well……..let’s see… adventure race is……..well, an adventure. A variety of race formats coupled with several sanctioning bodies makes it pretty hard to tie it all together into one neat package. One common thread, however, is that adventure races invariably involve teams racing together as one. No, it’s not a relay team like in a triathlon or a track team at a meet where the individual scores are combined to see who wins. No, it’s a team like basketball or football where everybody stays together and plays together. That’s why there’s no ‘I’ in an “adventure race team”. There is one in “adventure racing” so that’s why i didn’t use it in the title. But you get the point.

So what’s involved you may ask. Well, once again, that’s kind of hard to say. It depends on the race you’re talking about. Is it a sprint or expedition race? Is it off-road or urban or both? Sound confusing? Well, that’s part of the fun. If a particular adventure race contains disciplines that you wouldn’t do in a million years then try another one. It’s sort of an adventure buffet. However, as with anything, there are many common disciplines such as cycling and running and usually paddling of some sort, either flat or white water and sometimes both. Other disciplines can include orienteering, mountaineering, horseback riding, swimming, rock climbing, rapelling and so on.

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The race venue is also a question. Historically, adventure races were remote, off-road events where mountain biking and trail running were king, but an increasing number of urban races have gained popularity. The Wild Onion series is a good example, where they put racers on rollerblades and razor scooters and no telling what else. The Chicago version of the race makes teams take commuter trains from point to point. Imagine planning for a race, making sure that you have enough food and water, first-aid, tools, etc., and then having to worry about having the correct change. It’s insane, but if you’re anything like me, you have a big wide grin across your face just thinking about it.

The length of an adventure race, like everything else about the sport, is a variable. It can last from a couple of hours to over a week. The latter of the two is known as an expedition race. Why, you ask, would anyone in their right mind want to race for more than a week at a time? Well, I’m not sure, but I know that I would do one in a heartbeat if someone asked me (hint, hint). The problem with expedition races is that it takes a heck of a lot of time, training, equipment and, oh yeah, money. The Eco-Challenge and the Raid Gauloises are good examples of expedition adventure races. The entry fee alone for the Eco-Challenge is $12,000 per team, never mind the cost of equipment, travel and so on.

Sprint adventure races are more my cup of tea. In general, any race shorter than twenty four hours is considered a sprint race; however, there is quite a difference between a three hour race and a twenty three hour race. But that goes withouth saying. Many sprint races introduce a new element into the mix known as a “special test”. As with all other aspects of adventure racing, describing special tests is difficult since they can involve just about anything. The main gist, however, is that they test the physical and/or mental strengths of the “team”, not just the individual racers. Examples are climbing walls, puzzles, obstacle courses and so on.

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The disciplines involved can range from the simple to the somewhat sadistic. An angled climbing wall lathered in Crisco comes to mind. What makes some of these tests even more challenging is that many race directors leave them as “mystery events”. This means that you will not know what the test consists of until the pre-race meeting or even until you reach the special test area during the race. Expedition races are brutal endurance affairs but at least you know what you’re getting into beforehand. The mystery events throw a whole new dimension into racing. There’s no better way to test team dynamics than to have adversity thrown in your face while the clock is ticking.

I figure that there are three types of people that will come across this article. The first type is already into adventure racing and has either skipped this article or is diligently red-inking my mistakes. The second type has never done an adventure race and believes that doing one would be about as much fun as shaving with a rusty razor. They stopped reading after the first paragraph. The third type is saying, “Where do I sign up?” Well, guess what, I’ve got the race that will get you started. It’s called the Greenway Challenge and it’s a new sprint adventure race being held right here in good old Chattanooga. In April, fifty teams of three will be cycling, paddling and running at the North Chickamauga Creek Greenway out by the dam. Did I mention the mystery events? Wel, there will be plenty of those too. The race, as well as the other events going on that day, will benefit the work of the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy. For information on the organization, as well as the race, check out our website at

(Reprinted with permission from The Chattanooga Trailblazers Web site)

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