Disciplines in adventure racing

Early conceptions of adventure racing as a mere spinoff of ironman triathlon events were never truly accurate: Even the widely-accepted progenitor of modern adventure racing, the 1986 Karrimor Mountain Marathon, deviated from traditional athletic contests in that outdoorsmanship was required. The necessity of the “marathon runners” carrying survival gear immediately separated adventure racing from all sports that had come before and simultaneously opened a literal world of possibilities for future competitions.

So today, what events might racers be called upon to do? These vary from competition to competition, but a thorough list of disciplines required includes the following.

Running, bicycling and swimming were the three basic disciplines featured in adventure racing’s early days, due to the sport’s foundation in ironman triathlons. Nowadays, these fundamentals are widely divergent in terms of frequency seen: Whereas running is nearly always part of an adventure racing competition, the once-essential bicycling leg is not as frequently seen as in the 1990s and swimming has become a rarity thanks to the very nature of the sport, i.e. it’s damn difficult to navigate by compass while in the middle of the lake or a mile off the ocean shore…

Orienteering enjoys a strange duality in the adventure racing world in that, while not an altogether unique sport per se, orienteering is important enough to success that one team member’s designation – the Navigator or “Nav” – is devoted to the idea. In fact, orienteering is the skill which sets adventure racing apart from all other timed races, as it’s essentially the sole sport with no set course.

The necessity of good hiking skills goes without saying for most competitions, though Australia- and North America-based competitions are often set in a desert locale, so little hiking is needed for these.

Climbing is another discipline that adventure racing teams devote much training time to, but its inclusion in an adventure race is again dependent entirely on venue. The inclusion of proper climbing challenges in early adventure racing inspired most course designers thereafter to include some of this skill. An ultimate extension of this is the Red Fox race held in Russia, a riverfront competition with scads of rock climbing and rope work involved.

The very popular inclusion of water events such as whitewater rafting, kayaking, canoeing, rafting or even tubing (dude!) results from the fact that swimming isn’t always the easiest sport for organizers to include: Oceans are out until the England-to-France adventure race debuts, and swimming in rivers is problematic even for the strongest swimmers. On the other hand, rivers are readily available in most exotic locations chosen for competitions, and the equipment needed is lightweight enough so as to be portable. (Competitions involving rafting or kayaking will also include the second-team concept who moves the equipment from checkpoint to checkpoint for the first team on the course.

Downhill and cross-country skiing got on the adventure racing radar early, with the Alpine Ironman competitions of the early 1980s. These included the locally popular sport of downhill skiing in his competition, though today you’re much more likely to see a long leg of competition devoted to cross-country skiing – and in the insane Canada- and Alaska-based winter races, cross-country skiing *will* be included.

The peculiar wrinkle of camel riding was added by Hollywood – specifically TV producer Mark “Survivor” Burnett for his Americanized version of the Raid Gauloises in 1995. Australian organizers have yet to really warm to the idea of including camel riding in their desert-based adventure racing events, but any North American, African or Asian event may include the good ol’ dromedaries to test the competitors’ skills (and patience, probably).

Paragliding and hang-gliding are rarely seen events among adventure races, having first entered the realm in the early 2000s. Such an inclusion can be traced back to American competitions’ early relationship with the X-Games series on ESPN. Thanks to this semi-relationship, “extreme” sports such as kick-scooters, in-line skates and snowboards may be substituted for their traditional counterparts.

The latest major discipline to be added to the adventure sports retinue? That would probably be sailing, which was added to the burgeoning catalogue when Royal Navy Cmdr. Duncan Forer organized the first “Solent Amphibious Challenge” in 2012. This race was reportedly the world’s first sea/land adventure race and is designed to put the best naval navigators to the test. Unfortunately for those competitors looking to test their mettle in this newly-added discipline, alas: The competition is open only to teams sponsored by British Armed Forces teams.

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