Akin to running through the woods for a reason, adventure races have teams and participants navigating wilderness landscapes using different disciplines of travel in search of checkpoints. Adventure racing has grown over the last twenty years with weekend warriors and professional athletes alike crossing the finish-lines, and to get a little more perspective on this burgeoning culture, Troy Farrar, president of the United States Adventure Racing Association (USARA), is happy to shed a little light on how adventure racing got started, some trends in the sport, and why anyone and everyone should give these adventures a try:
Adventure Racing Defined
“An adventure race is a multi-disciplined team race, with the most common disciplines including trail running, mountain biking, a paddle sport, and general orienteering,” said Farrar.
This means that your typical adventure race, which can average between 12–36 hours, consists of a large map dotted with random checkpoints, and as a team you need to travel to those checkpoints via trail, bike, or boat in order to finish the race.
“The sport is also very open to the creativity of the race directors in adding whatever element they want including items like ropes, whitewater swimming, and other skill sets,” added Farrar.
He also noted the difference between adventure races and obstacle races like mud-runs of which you have a pre-determined and set course.
Trends and History of the USARA
Since the first modern day Adventure Race in 1989, the Raid Gauloises created by Gérald Fusil, adventure racing has spread across the world and to the United States. Farrar himself put on one of the first United States Adventure Races in 1998, and shortly after he helped other race directors join forces and create the USARA . Since then, some logistics of the sport have changed, but the adventurous aspect has always remained the same.
“One of the big changes that we’ve seen is that in the early years, everything was really long,” said Farrar. “Anything over a day’s length is considered to be an expedition, and early on basically all the events were expedition length. If I compared it to running, it’s like if the sport started with ultra-marathons and then 5 years later someone said, “Why don’t we do some 5ks?” – that’s how our sport developed.”
Who Competes in Adventure Racing
“Anyone who likes the outdoors,” said Farrar. “A lot of people competing including the professionals have typical day jobs, and come the weekend they just want to get it away from it all. Depending on the event and the length, there is a wide range of people participating, and it’s really open to anyone who wants to give it a try.”
Originally adventure racing required a co-ed team of 5, but over time races have included solo, same gender team, 2–4 person team divisions. Farrar noted that in recent years, about 30–35% of participants are women and that the number of all male teams typically match the number of co-ed teams. But for Farrar, the teamwork is really what defines the race.
“People ask me what’s the most important piece of equipment for adventure racing, and I’ll always tell them that it is their teammates.”
Why Compete in Adventure Racing
Farrar had a lot to say about what attracts people to adventure racing, and as suspected there are a lot of good reasons to go explore the sport.
“The number one reason for people checking out the sport is that they love being outdoors, and it gives them a good excuse to run around the woods. The second big thing for me is just being out there with my buddies sharing the experience together. It is a race and it there is the competitive side to it, but it’s really about the journey and how we function as a team, about what we can do to work together and get to that finish line.”
Farrar also noted how in adventure racing every course is different. Comparing it to the similar sport of triathlons, where you know the exact distances in which you’ll be traveling, adventure racing is more exploratory and you never know the exact distances of each discipline until you’ve traveled it.
“Something also worth mentioning is the comradery,” added Farrar. “We’ve seen some great sportsmanship in the sport, even in the National Championships teams will stop racing to help other teams if they can, and I think that’s what it’s all about. It’s very competitive at times, but it is also a big family where everyone cheers for each other, and it’s that community that I think is a big draw for people.”
Check it Out Today
To see the most comprehensive list of adventure races happening this year, check out the USARA’s Calendar of Events, and make sure to mark on your own calendar for the USARA National Championships that will take place this year on the first weekend of October.
“It’s a really exciting event and we want it to be special for everyone and not just the winners,” said Farrar. “The Championships will be an event that everyone has a great time at, and I encourage everyone to try and qualify because it will be a special thing and a lot of fun.”