Adventure Race opportunities are not that common. They don’t happen every weekend, like Parkrun does. Grab the opportunity when it’s there and go get yourself an experience of a lifetime.”
Age: mid 50s
Married, mid 50’s club triathlete of very average ability and mountain biker of even less average ability.
I enjoy food, beer and wine too much to get any more serious about sport these days, though I do keep some form of fitness through the bike and getting outdoors. I enjoy a challenge and I was a professional rally co-driver in a past life.
How I Started Adventure Racing
I’ve always enjoyed Mountain Biking and I have a love of the Outer Hebrides, having visited there regularly as a kid. Many years ago, I heard about an event called ‘The Heb: Race on the Edge’ which is the precursor to the current version by Durty Events. Helen and I went up to volunteer which truly sparked my interest in multi-day adventure racing. I watched the teams on the ferry over to South Uist, engrossed in their maps and trying to plan their routes. Having previously been a rally co-driver, I also loved maps and had a skill at reading them. It was there and then, I wanted to do Adventure Racing.
It wasn’t until ITERA 2019 that the opportunity to compete finally presented itself to me. One team was a person short at the last minute. And I had the time free and was in good shape (I’d been training and was set for Manxman XTRI). So, I knew I had a good long day out ‘in’ me. Knowing the event would last days, it was just a case of preparing to go steady, keeping fuelling, and pressing on regardless.
Considering My Weaker Disciplines
None of the Adventure Racing disciplines were completely new to me; running and cycling are two of the disciplines in XTRI, but the kayaking worried me. My hip flexors do not like spending any length of time on a sit-on-top kayak and my paddling experience and competence was very limited. So that worried me, as did ‘exposure’. Not the getting naked in transition type, the type of exposure you find traversing along narrow ridges on top of Munro mountain ranges. Paul kindly sent me up the Mountain one year, when I was volunteering at Celtman XTRI. I learned then that I have a great respect (and quite a lot of fear and trepidation) of the mountains.
Preparation & Kit
Pre-event you are presented with an event schematic. This gives you very basic information – number of legs in the event, leg distance, and the discipline involved. There is also a compulsory kit list. I started by pulling together the compulsory kit. I then planned a set of dry kit for every leg. I didn’t know if I’d get the opportunity to get into dry clothes, but I wanted to have enough sets of kit to allow for it if I so wanted.
The Course Reveal
We all met up at the start base town of Inverness and had a day of sorting our kit out, along with the course ‘reveal’. You do not get sight of the actual course until the day before the start. You know where you are gathering and you know you will finish back there. At the course reveal, you find out where the actual start is and also where the individual legs will actually take you. We were to run 5k, then kayak, then mountain bike, then kayak again.
I thought I was mentally prepared. I had a good idea from previous events what to expect but at the course reveal I was in shock when it started to actually sink in what I had really signed up for. An excited (and scared) kind of shock. Kayaking on a loch is one thing, in the sea is something else. The initial short 5k run spread the teams out, then it was 20-25k for sea kayaking. I didn’t know how I was going to deal with that. Badly was the answer. With no prior practice, my technique was so bad we couldn’t paddle in a straight line. We were plumb last, a good 30 minutes behind everyone else getting off the water. About 2k out from the end transition we were told by the organiser’s support boat to hurry up. We were effectively paddling across the final approach to a bombing range which was about to open.
Sleep & Fuel
We didn’t have a strategy for sleep. We were novices, running high on adrenalin, excitement and no idea of pacing. We actually only had one pace – plod on at our pace and don’t worry about it. We took the plan even before the start to only do Short Course – try and get to the finish competitively.
As I said above, we were well behind everyone at the end of the 1st kayak, but we knew we would make up time on the MTB leg by focusing on short course and not adding any extra distance. We carried on right through the first night and on day 2 were actually running quite high up in the field, all be it with lots of time penalties for missing the optional checkpoints. The first time we had some sleep on event was night 2. We slept for 2 hours, before going up An Teallach. We figured this would mean it was daylight when we summited and had to go along the ridge, rather than try and traverse the ridge in the dark.
On a 5 day event, a lack of sleep has to be taken into account. On a 2-3 day event take it if you really need it, but if you are well rested before the start that need should be minimal. If you do want to try and plan some sleep in, try and sleep when it is dark and maximise the daylight hours for moving and ease of navigation.
You also have to think about fuelling and nutrition. You need to take all the food you will need to the event. It’s unlikely (though not impossible) that you will have time or the opportunity to purchase food along the way. Our approach was expedition meals at Transitions and energy food (not gels) during legs: nuts, flapjack, bananas, peanut butter sandwiches, jelly babies, and energy drinks.
If you want to do it but don’t have team mates, it’s quite easy. There are forums, facebook groups, and sports clubs (triathlon/ orienteering/ mountain biking etc) where you can easily find them. Just put yourself out there and keep an eye out for others also looking for team mates.
The one dynamic to consider is are you all compatible from a competitive perspective? As a novice, just looking to get round the course, happy to drop some checkpoints, you do not want to join a seasoned team racing for the outright victory.
Another is mood. The events are long, so everyone will go through ups and downs, but not necessarily at the same time. It’s important to understand where everyone else is at and if you are up, try and help anyone why might be down. They will repay you when you have a down period.
The Hardest Part
The void when it was all over. As the event comes closer, through the preparation, the training, the excitement through the Course Reveal, all the wonderful experiences along the way on the event, many of which you only remember some time later, and then, suddenly, it’s done. A void. What next? Fortunately, I had an imminent XTRI race to focus on after ITERA 2019.
If You’re Thinking about doing ITERA-lite
I learnt I can do far more than I think I am capable of. What I learned on the Adventure Race helped me enormously when I did my first XTRI event. Not quicker, but I can go much further, for longer, than I ever thought I could.
I absolutely loved doing ITERA. You get to know your team mates so much more throughout an Adventure Race. It brings you all closer (especially if you all look after each other).
So, if you’re thinking about it: do it, do it, do it. Do not hesitate. Make it happen. Get a team together or join an established team. Get yourself onto that entry list one way of the other. It is an experience in life that is virtually impossible to get any other way. And life is all about experiences. The rest of it is just surviving, until the next great experience.
You need to have a level of fitness that you can go for back-to-back long days out (be it hill-walking, mountain biking, skiing). Not going at flat-out race pace, just enjoying longs days out in the countryside being self-sufficient. It also helps considerably if you are able to navigate (i.e. able to read a map and know where you are on a map).
It also helps to have some like-minded friends that also fancy a little adventure. Adventure racing is a team sport. It doesn’t matter if you are all novices, that can actually make it even more fun, and I guess challenging too. In 2019, the team I was in, we were all complete Adventure Race novices.
If you don’t have much experience in kayaking, you will have come the end of the event! That’s got to be a positive. In all seriousness, you really need a couple of the team to have some kayaking experience (so you can have one on each boat if you are a team of 4). Embrace it, do it and you will enjoy it.
- Just DO IT! No excuses. Find a team and get an entry.
- Then, Teamwork. Know your team members strengths and weaknesses. Support one another.
- Prior to that, preparation. Make sure you take the correct and enough kit.
Adventure Race opportunities are not that common. They don’t happen every weekend, like Parkrun does. Grab the opportunity when it’s there and go get yourself an experience of a lifetime.
ITERA-Lite is also an excellent way to gain some initial Adventure Race experience. It’s a ‘proper’ race, but for less experienced teams it’s just a bit shorter and a bit more manageable than the full-on 5 day event. You will learn so much, even on the Lite event.