The Fast Growth of Adventure Racing in the USA


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:

Troy Far­rar, Pres­i­dent of USARA

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.”