Adventure Racing: Complete Guide + 8 Training Tips

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Do you ever find that running just isn’t exciting enough for you? Even if you are daring enough to take on trail races or ultramarathons, running can be pretty repetitive and mundane for true thrill seekers.

If you’re the outdoorsy type who loves epic challenges and doing a variety of activities, it might be time to consider adventure racing, a rising sports discipline that has outdoor enthusiasts, endurance athletes, and adrenaline junkies clamoring for more, more, more.

If any of this sounds even somewhat intriguing to you, keep reading for our complete guide to adventure racing and learn all about this exhilarating and challenging sport.

In this guide, we will cover: 

  • What Is Adventure Racing?
  • What Is An Adventure Race Like?
  • What Sports Are Included In Adventure Racing?
  • Why Do People Love Adventure Racing?
  • 8 Adventure Racing Training Tips

Let’s dive in! 

A person adventure racing in the evening.

What Is Adventure Racing?

Unless you’re really plugged in to the multi-sport, outdoor competition world, this may be your first introduction to adventure racing.

Still in its relative nascent stages, adventure racing is an umbrella term that describes an endurance or long-duration race that combines multiple athletic activities or disciplines into a single event, usually over rough terrain.

Adventure racing has its origins in triathlon competitions, wherein competitors first swim, then bike, and then run in a single, continuous race.

Triathlons are multi-sport races defined by these three sports in this specific order. Furthermore, there are certain standard distances for triathlon events. 

For example, sprint triathlons, Olympic triathlons, 70.3 (half Ironman triathlons), and 140.6 or full Ironman triathlons have designated distances for each discipline.

Additionally, most triathlons take place on well-marked, closed courses, often with routes chosen to optimize speed.

In the 1980s, multi-sport athletes seeking more of an off-road challenge took the concepts of triathlon off road and birthed what became the first adventure races.

A person rock climbing.

Adventure racing shares the multi-sport and endurance event characteristics of triathlons but can be seen as a much more gnarly, challenging, and varied event.

There are far fewer standards for adventure racing compared to triathlon, right down to the sports disciplines in the event.

Adventure racing can include any activity, such as running, mountain biking, kayaking, canoeing, river swimming, trail running with a map and compass for navigation, rock climbing, rappelling, and so on.

An adventure race may include any number or type of activity and any sort of distance or order.

The terrain is often super rugged and may be relatively unmarked, leaving competitors needing to navigate the course and potentially bush-walk their way on their own. 

Additionally, some adventure races are solo events whereas others are partner or team challenges. 

An adventure race may last a matter of a few hours to several days over numerous stages. 

Two people mountain biking.

What Is An Adventure Race Like?

As can probably be deduced, no two adventure races are necessarily the same.

Beginner adventure races, or entry-level adventure races, more closely resemble a standard triathlon but on off-road terrain.

For example, a typical entry-level or basic adventure race will be an event lasting four to six hours or so.

Athletes will complete an open water swim (such as a lake or river swim), mountain biking, and then trail running, often with an orienteering component to the run wherein the athlete has to navigate the course using a map and compass.

More advanced or epic adventure racing involves additional disciplines over a full 24 hours or more. 

Another fun aspect of some adventure races are the challenges at some or all of the checkpoints.

Competitors may be required to perform certain physical or mental challenges at a checkpoint to prove their strength, critical thinking skills, ability to perform under pressure, and mental and physical fortitude.

Sometimes, performance on these challenges earns additional points that are calculated into the athlete’s score, whereas other adventure races may use checkpoint challenges as a pass/fail qualifier. 

Failing to pass the challenge will disqualify the competitor from progressing onward in the adventure race.

Adventure racing is clearly a sport that tests mental and physical strength and endurance, as well as the ability to perform when truly exhausted.

A kayak on a river.

What Sports Are Included In Adventure Racing?

There are no rules when it comes to what disciplines must be included in order for an event to qualify as adventure racing. 

An adventure race may have any number and order of disciplines, but the following are some of the most common activities that might be included in a solo or team adventure race:

  • Orienteering
  • Whitewater rafting
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Rock climbing
  • Rappelling 
  • Roller blading 
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Snowshoeing 
  • Ski biking
  • Horseback riding 
  • Paragliding 
A person running into the ocean in a triathlon suit.

Why Do People Love Adventure Racing?

If you like predictability and the ability to control your environment and situation, adventure racing may sound like downright torture.

However, if you love to test your physical and mental strength to the max, and see how well you can solve problems, find your way, and push your body and mind when you want to give up, adventure racing may be perfect for you.

There’s a large planning or tactical component to adventure racing as well, so if you like learning about survival skills, using orienteering skills or analog navigational aids, and MacGyver-ing as hoc solutions in the wilderness, you might love the strategic side of adventure racing.

Adventure racing also appeals to adrenaline junkies and outdoorsy folks who love the thrill and unpredictability of Mother Nature and the natural world, as well as athletes who love to do a variety of sports disciplines to challenge their body in different ways.

If you love the team challenge atmosphere, or the thought of working hard with some of your best buddies over several hours or days, you might also thrive in team adventure racing.

The tips of skis in snow.

8 Adventure Racing Training Tips

Have you signed up for your first adventure race or do you want tips to improve your adventure race performance?

Here are some adventure racing training tips:

#1: Build a Base

For some people, as soon as they become aware of adventure racing, they’re completely sold and can’t wait to do their first event.

However, as should be clear, adventure racing isn’t really for the faint of heart or poorly-prepared individuals.

That’s not to say that beginners can’t successfully train for adventure races, but you have to put in the work.

No matter what adventure race you sign up for, or what disciplines you’ll compete in, you need to have a solid aerobic fitness base.

Whether you run, cycle, row, swim, climb stairs, hike, or do any number of forms of cardio, make sure you’re getting in some long, steady aerobic workouts to build your cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance.

Gradually progress the length of your workouts, having at least one “long” cardio workout per week, lasting a couple hours or more, depending on the distances in your upcoming adventure race.

People white water rafting.

#2: Do Sports-Specific Workouts

It’s probably common sense, but it’s worth mentioning that you should spend a fair amount of time practicing the actual disciplines you will use in your adventure race.

For example, if you are doing a more basic adventure race involving an open-water swim, mountain biking, and trail running, make sure that you spend some time each week swimming, biking, and running.

Furthermore, the more closely you can match the conditions and terrain of the event itself, the better. In other words, can you swim in a lake or river during practice to simulate the challenges of swimming in open water relative to a controlled swimming pool?

Can you do off-road biking? Similarly, make sure you are getting in at least some mileage on your feet on trails to strengthen your ankles, improve your reflexes, and get you accustomed to running on uneven terrain.

If you are venturing into more advanced adventure racing with disciplines like rock climbing or kayaking through rapids, try to get in training time in these activities before the event.

A close-up of rappel gear.

#3: Train Your Whole Body

Oftentimes, the most successful competitors in adventure races are the best all-around athletes. You need to be strong, fit, fast, and agile, while having good endurance as well:

Make sure you’re doing total-body strength training workouts at least 2-3 times per week using heavy weights to build power and strength.

#4: Do “Brick” Workouts

Brick workouts come from triathlon training. They traditionally involve biking and then immediately running in a single workout session.

These workouts train your body to get used to the feeling of running on legs that feel like “bricks” after cycling, just as the triathlete will need to do in a race.

Adventure racers should use this same concept by performing two or more disciplines back to back as they will be performed in the race.

For example, after mountain biking for an hour, hop off, switch into your running shoes, and then immediately do a 30-minute trail run.

Try to do one “brick-style” workout per week, varying the disciplines and workout duration and intensity.

A person holding a compass in the desert.

#5: Study the Course

The more familiar you are with the route that you will be taking, the better. That way, you don’t have to spend as much mental energy thinking about where you need to go or how to navigate to the next checkpoint.

If possible, spend time exploring the course and familiarizing yourself with the route.

If this is not possible, spend time studying maps or see if there are any videos or course tips online from previous competitors.

#6: Practice Your Navigation Skills

Much of the time, adventure racing involves at least some degree of navigating with a map and compass. 

Practicing these skills will make it that much more natural on the day of the event.

A person paragliding over the ocean.

#7: Plan, Plan, Plan

One of the keys to successful adventure racing is to plan out all of the logistics as much as possible ahead of time, keeping in mind that you need to have a flexible mindset to change things on the fly as needed.

After all, there are all sorts of unpredictable things that happen when you race in the great outdoors.

With that said, plan and prepare what you can ahead of time so that you are set up for success on race day.

  • What will you wear?
  • What are the weather conditions slated to be?
  • What, when, and how will you eat and drink to fuel and hydrate your body?

Practice your fueling strategy in training to make sure you feel good and can get in the calories you need.

Rehearse your transitions by physically practicing changing your outfit and gear as needed.

Any details you can iron out before race day will free up mental energy and stress during the event and can potentially help sidestep any disasters.

People rowing on a river.

#8: Read Reviews

If there are blog posts or YouTube videos prior competitors have made about the specific adventure race you’re entered into, use these “pro tips” to inform your training and preparation.

Knowledge is power and adventure racing is all about using your smarts.

Have you ever done an adventure race? Does adventure racing appeal to you? Let us know how it went or if you plan to test yourself in one of the epic competitions!

To help you get started with some total body strength training that will help in any type of adventure race, check out our strength training guide!

People snow shoeing.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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