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What is Adventure Racing?

What is that and how do I sign-up?!? ...was my reaction to seeing a video Marcus posted about an adventure race. He gave us the intro into SwimRun events. SwimRun NC was one of the most awesome races I've ever been a part of as a result. Now there's adventure racing! Looks like fun!!!!

Now I have a burning curiosity about adventure racing so I went to the source with some Q&A. Yes, an adventure race is absolutely in my future!

So... What is Adventure Racing?

It's fun.  That's what it is.  Actually, it's hella fun.  Think of this concept:  In the formal sense, it's a 4-person team race where the team will have to utilize multiple sport disciplines to acquire checkpoints across terrain with no set course.  That's a mouthful, so let me break it down further.

  • Teams
    In formal races, such as championships, this is a 4-person team with at least one member being female.  Races will usually allow smaller teams (teams of 3 or 2) and even solo entrants.  It's really up to the particular race, but once again, championship races usually require a 4-person team.  The team must stay together for the duration of the race.
  • Race Objective
    The team must utilize UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) coordinates to locate as many checkpoints (mostly referred to as control points or CPs) as they can.  The team that locates the most CPs before the cutoff time, wins.  If there is a tie in the number of CPs, then the team that arrived back to the transition area/finish area first, wins.  
  • Navigating Using UTM
    During the race, you're given a map and a passport (punch card). You're also given a list of UTM coordinates to the CPs and you plot these on your map. You then use this map to determine what is the best/fastest/most strategic route to gain the control points. Most teams will have a designated navigator that is not only experienced with UTM and plotting, but also one that is really good at reading the terrain on the map to get you there fast. Many teams will share in the responsibility of navigating, but this role is an important one where the designated navigator makes the decisions. You cannot use any type of electronic device. Instead, you can use a UTM ruler and a compass. That's it.
  • Course
    See above.  You decide your course.  How many miles you put in depends on what route you choose.  Most races will advertise an estimate based upon the route that they think is the best.  
  • Race Duration
    If you do some hunting online, you'll find races will vary anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of weeks.  Many times, the same race will have multiple "distances" where they may offer a 4-hour course, an 8-hour course and a 12-hour course.   Pick your poison.  Whichever you pick, you have that duration of time to get as many CPs as possible, but you MUST be back before the cutoff time.  
  • Sports/Disciplines
    Races will be comprised of multiple sports.  Most smaller races will consist of mountain biking, trail running/trekking and some form of paddling (canoe/kayak).  Which order you do these in is dictated by the race director.  In my last race, we did multiple legs of each during the race.  The race director would give us a passport with 5 or 6 CPs and tell us to get them via bike.  Once we returned, he would give us 5 or 6 more checkpoints and tell us to get them on foot.  Next, paddle.  You get the gist.  This continued for the duration of the race.  Some of the much larger, multi-day races are true expedition style where you may also have to do climbing, rappelling, whitewater rafting and much more.  The longest I've found in the US is Expedition Oregon which has a 108 hour cutoff.
  • Equipment
    You will want typical things needed to do mountain biking, trail running/trekking and paddling, although lots of races will provide or rent boats and associated equipment.  You'll also be given a list of mandatory items that you have to carry with you. Most of these mandatory items are safety related such as safety whistle, first aid kit, etc although some of the larger races will also require you to have certain clothing items, other sport-specific gear or lights, for example.  
  • Other Rules
    To add a little interest into things, race directors will make up other rules or tasks that you need to accomplish during the race.  Getting your next waypoint or UTM coordinates may require you to do something mentally challenging such as a puzzle or word scramble.  In our last race, there were several "boat" legs of the race that we had to do in these bright tubes painted like donuts.  Yes, the kind you see at the swimming pool.  At one race, we were given a new set of UTM coordinates that we had to plot on our map at 3am in the morning after having raced for over 12 hours already.

So we all know you are Mr. SwimRun around here. What are the similarities between Adventure Racing and SwimRun? Seems like you have that common thread of working with a team, out in the wild, the course is defined by the terrain not a defined distance, and it's just super cool!

There are a lot of similarities, especially since swimrun was created by an adventure racing team.  The team aspect is similar since in swimrun, you have to stay with your teammate.  You're also correct in the fact that the course is dictated by nature.  In swimrun, the course is usually set and marked, but many of those races may still have you running off-trail through the wild.  However, in adventure racing, you truly do decide your course and how you will get the checkpoints.  

What was the last Adventure Race you participated in? Are you teaming up with your SwimRun teammates for Adventure Races too?

The last one that I did was a 20-hour race at Lake Guntersville in Alabama with Joe Urbanowicz.  ( I know him through both XTERRA and swimrun.  The two of us have also teamed up with Caleb Baity on a couple of adventure races as well.  I guess given the similarities of swimrun and our shared love of the truly off-road (and even off-trail) nature of the two sports.

How do you train for Adventure Racing? My guess is you just need to be a good all-around athlete. Strength, bike, swim, run, overall endurance, etc. and sprinkle in some navigation skills.

Sprinkle navigation skills?  Man, that is key.  There are lots of videos out there on how to read topographical maps (reading the terrain is very important) and how to plot UTM coordinates.  From there, it comes as practice.  I can hold my own when it comes to navigating, but I've raced with some PHENOMINAL navigators like Lisa Ropke Randall.  She's a very experienced navigator and it shows.  Being good and smart about navigating can make up for physical fitness.  In my last race, we were faster, but we were totally out-navigated.  As it pertains to fitness, all the usual stuff applies.  Being a strong biker, runner and paddler is what you need to be competitive.  As for endurance, this is directly related to the duration of races that you would like to try.  If you are used to heading out for a 1.5 hour mountain bike and that's it, you may find it tough to tackled a 24-hour race.  So, practicing long durations, dialing in your fueling and fluids is vitally important for the longer races.  

SwimRun has been growing by leaps and bounds as a sport. Do you see Adventure Racing having the same type of steam behind it?

Actually, adventure racing has been around since the 80's.  Like swimrun, this is a very adventurous (pun intended) sport that some people would find unusual or extreme. Unlike popular mudruns, funruns and the like, where some participants decide to do it with very little preparation or skill, these sports do require more upfront planning, training and effort.  When it comes to participation, you may not see the growth that some of those have, but I do think that more people are getting outside and interested in something different.  I think the biggest challenge we face is that we, as adults, need to encourage our youth to try some of these sports and experience the benefit of not only being outside, away from popular electronics, but also to teach them teamwork, problem solving and dealing with challenging scenarios.  We need to start to encourage doing hard things and not settling for what is quick and easy.  I think this would have positive, life-long effects.   

Is there a championship of Adventure Racing?

There's currently a National Championship race held by USARA ( that is a 30-hour race.  There are qualifying races to choose from that you must finish in the top 4 in order to qualify.  There is also an Adventure Racing World Championships ( that is not directly affiliated with USARA.  The World Championships is a race designed where the winners typically win the race in 4.5 days, but the cutoff is 8 days.  The Expedition Oregon race that I mentioned before is the only qualifier race in the USA.  

You're also Mr. XTERRA (literally). Do you see SwimRun, XTERRA (and now other off-road tri's like Motus), and Adventure Racing feeding each other? The same athletes that are doing a Motus race or SwimRun NC are also showing up for Adventure Racing like yourself.

Yes, I do.  These racers share a similar spirit and are looking for adventures that require not only physical prowess but grit as well. However, it doesn't appeal to everyone.  For example, I've talked with a lot of off-road triathletes that have no desire to swim more than a mile in a race.  Likewise, I've seen racers that don't particularly care for a race that doesn't have a set, marked course.  I'm not knocking them, that's what they love and I applaud it.  However, the racers I see crossing over are usually the most adventurous.  

Do we have any Adventure Races in Charlotte or the surrounding area? 

We have the Long Creek Adventure Race at the US National Whitewater Center.  There also races in Uhwarrie.  The USARA Nationals race is in Boone this year.

Where can we go to see races that are coming up regardless of location?

There are a couple of places to get dates.  Here are a few links:

What's your next big adventure?

2020 has provided some challenges for adventures.  I have my eye on some swimruns, off-road triathlons and a couple of adventure races that are still appearing on the calendar.  However, like everyone else, I'm trying to just be flexible and see what doesn't get canceled.  With that said, my big adventure this year was to race Rockman Swimrun ( for the third time, but it's now not in the cards for 2020, but has already a spot on my 2021 calendar.  

I highly recommend that you give adventure racing a try.  The local Long Creek adventure race has 4-hour and 8-hour options and is a blast.  It's not on the calendar for this year, but check out the links and find a race to try.  Not saying that Long Creek is to this level, but you should also mark your calendar for this show: