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Adventure Racing Skills Tips

Ultra-marathon Running
Mountain Biking
Rope Skills



Under the pressure of competition, we always break at our weakest links. In the team, it will be your weakest member. In an individual, this can occur at many levels, physically, emotionally, mentally, or mechanically. If you are competing in a multi-day event, sleep deprived, fatigued, or low on energy, you will break down at the weakest points as the pressure mounts. To get tougher, focus your training on your weakest links. In order to do this you need to know what your weakest links are.


The idea that I want to illustrate about evaluation is that you need to know what your current condition is before you can effectively set up your training program. You should also get to know your body better. Knowledge of things like your water consumption rates can help you stay hydrated, or plan logistics in an event. A general guideline is to drink a half liter-to-1 liter of water per hour.

Things like fitness testing should be done on a person to person basis. Fitness testing includes run tests and exercise testing. By some standards you are considered in good fitness condition if you can run a mile in ten minutes. These standards are not applicable to adventures that can range all the way up to 380 miles.

Weekend training missions are great to find out what your strengths and weaknesses are. Put together some hiking, some mountain biking, some paddling with some friends or your team. Do it continuously, or stage it separately, the main goal is to figure out what you should put your training emphasis on.


You crawled before you walked, and walked before you ran. You should run five miles before you try ten. Gradually increase your distance as you are capable. There are many good running schedules available, but it all depends on where you are in your conditioning. Start small and build up. Try adding one long run per week to your training. If the longest you have run is ten miles, then a long run would be anything over ten miles. Try to increase your long run each time. Some other runs to include in your week could be hill repeats, long hikes, track work, easy day, or strength training. If you are ready to increase your mileage and run your first 50 miler, check out this website: Oceans of Energy: How Run Your First 50 Miler

Mountain Biking

Most of the trails used in these races are intermediate single track, logging roads, gravel roads, and even paved roads. The skill needed to mountain bike in these events could be classified as intermediate. I have seen the distances vary from as little as 20 miles, up to 100 miles of biking. Be prepared for long distances, and get use to riding with a pack on. You should be able to go over rocks or other obstacles at any speed.

  • Prepare your tool kit for flats. Practice changing flat tires. Check out Quick fills vs. small hand pumps.
  • Try to make your bike and gear as light weight as possible.
  • Try different tires. Sometimes you can get by with those hybrid tires, and they save you in rolling resistance. Over a long distance, the rolling resistance of your tires make a difference.
  • Look for ways to make your food and water accesible at all times. This is order to reduce stops. Constant movement forward is the name of the game.
  • The team navigator should have the map situated on the handle bars. You are travelling faster, and need to keep an eye on the map. Also try to keep your compass visible
  • Lights are important! You will be riding at night on trails and roads. Practice this and experiment with different lighting systems. Some lights are brighter, but won't last the night.
  • Experiment with towing systems. If you have a weak rider on your team, you can supplement their progress with the use of a bungee. Careful, this takes practice.
  • Make sure your team has one toolkit that can handle most field repairs. Things like bent wheels or derailers can happen during a crash. be prepared for it. Know how to straighten a wheel enough to get by.


The most common questions that your teammates will ask, if you are the navigator, are "How far to the the next checkpoint?", "Are we almost there?", or "Which way do we go?". Navigation and routefinding are the most important skills to have for an adventure race. It is good to have at least one navigator on your team, but it is even better to have more. Some events list orienteering as an activity, when they actually mean navigation and routefinding.

Orienteering is a sport of the compass and map. The maps used for orienteering are very exact, and small in detail. This sport is very popular in the Scandinavian countries, and is doing well in a few place in the US. These events, though shorter in distance, can greatly improve your navigation skills. I recommend seeking an orienteering club in your area.

Most adventure races use topographic maps, which don't have the detail that an orienteering map has. You will use navigation skills to know your location, and find the location of the next objective. You will then use your route-finding skills to determine the best route for your teams ability. Sometimes the best route may be the easiest one,something like following a ridge line. However you need to compare that with a route that may be more direct, and possibly saving time. It all depends on you, your skills, and your team's ability. So you need to practice to know these things.

Practice using a compass and map whenever you go hiking. The more practice you have converting contour lines of a map to the topography of the terrain, the better. Know how to navigate at night, or in low visibility conditions.

Rope Skills

The rope sections in most adventure races only involve ascending, descending, or traversing skills. You don't need to learn rock climbing, but it would give you a few benefits. Rock climbing helps develop balance and coordination. It is a great way to develop visualization, which can aid you in times of difficulty during a race. It can improve hand strength, which benefits you during paddling and mountain biking. Indoor climbing gyms offer a great off season, cross training opportunity.


In most cases you will be provided a rope that will already be set up. All you have to do is get out your ascending gear, put on your harness, and start going up. Most races recommend using Jumars or Petzel ascenders. The gear you will need for a basic ascending system is; a climbing harness, two ascenders, two daisy chains, two etriers, locking carabiners, and a prussik loop. There are many variations on these systems, and there are some that are very light weight. In this basic system, the etriers attach to an ascender each, with a locking carabiner. The etriers hang down like rope ladders for you to step up on. The daisy chains each attach to the same carabiners. The other end of the daisy chain gets attached to your climbing harness. You will want to adjust the daisy chains so that the ascenders can not go out of your reach if you happen to let go of them. Mark the daisy chains where they are adjusted for easy set up the next time. The prussik loop is just a safety back up.


Here again the rope will already be set up. All you have to do is put on your harness, get your descending device, and start going down. The devices vary for descending from tubers, ATC, figure 8, racks, or mechanical devices. Mechanical devices might weigh a little too much for these events since weight is a major concern. Some tubers or ATC might be too small for the ropes that the race is using. I have been to a race where the rope was thick and stiff, and a tuber or ATC was cumbersome to use.


The ropes will be set up. You put your harness on, clip your biners onto the rope, and jump, or slide off the edge. Sometimes you may be required to use a pulley to attach to the rope. Pulleys move freely over the rope, where carabiners drag with friction. Depending on how the rope is setup, it may sag in the middle. This will require good upper body strength to pull yourself up the side. Consider using a prussik to keep you from sliding back to the center.

Most events that have rope sections in the course will have gear and skill checkouts. They will evaluate your systems, or perhaps require a certain system. I suggest getting your training from a qualified professional. Prepare your upper body strength for each of these skills.


You should know the basics, or the requirements of the event. If an event is taking you down class 4 water on a raft, they will probably have a professional guide in the boat. The guide will usually cover the basic strokes. For canoeing or kayaking I suggest learning safety and rescue techniques from a school or outfitter. You should be able to confidently paddle on class two water, or have river reading skills.


It all depends on where you are at. Some mountains are ascended by merely hiking to the top. Then there are others that require ropes, ice climbing skills, crampons, and ice axes. The book that is the bible for mountaineers is, Mountaineering - The Freedom of the Hills. In this book you will find how-to information about climbing fundamentals, gear, survival, route finding, rock climbing, and snow and ice climbing. In either case, the mountain is never conquered, you are allowed to join it in its majesty above the clouds. Its primary weapons against vain challengers are the weather and the altitude. Your only protection,should you be percieved a threat, against the weather is your gear, and your ability to take shelter or retreat. There are a few things you can do to save yourself from the altitude.


It is the mountains over 8,000 ft that seem to have the most power over mortal man. The affliction of altitude sickness comes upon you like a bear jumping on your back. Your energy is zapped and magically dissipates. Your stomach gets nausious, and your head starts pounding. The best way to prevent this to maintain a modest attitude when at altitude. Honor the mountain with each step. Stay hydrated by drinking fluids throughout the day. Never wait until you are thirsty. The altitude can also have the effect of curtailing your appetite. Try to eat a little every so often, even if you aren't hungry. The bear likes to prey on the weak, so stay hydrated and fueled.


Some of the aspects that affect how you will acclimatize to altitude are your conditioning level, the altitude, and the humidity. It might take 2 to 6 days for your body to adjust to its new environment. A way to check for your acclimatization is to take your morning pulse rate for some weeks prior to departure. This is to establish your baseline. Once you arrive to race location, take your morning pulse rate and compare. When the pulse rates seem to be equalized, you are ready to race. A quick caution about acclimatization, tropical areas may require just as much time to adjust as altitude.

Contributed By: Jack Crawford

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