Adventure Racing 101: A Quick-Start Guide


You may not have to worry about doing any climbing in the sprint races, but you will more than likely have at least a rappel in the longer races. In expedition and 24-hour races, you may also have to do an ascent with jumars. Both are very fun and relatively easy to learn.

  • Head to a local gym or adventure racing camp to learn how to rappel with an ATC/Figure 8 and ascend with jumars (a jumar is a device that clasps around the rope and allows you to shuttle it forward, but not backwards, so you can actually climb "up" the rope, supporting your feet in attached "footloops").
  • Practice with a number of different ascending techniques to discover what works for you. I find that I use two different techniques, one for low angle and one for vertical ("Rope Walker" system and "Frog/caving" system, respectively). It's just a matter of practice and personal preference.
  • Tips:
  • Buy lightweight equipment. You may be running with it on your body or in your pack for long periods of time.
  • When ascending, remember to use your legs to push yourself up, versus your arms to pull yourself up.
  • Tie a hair band or rubber band around the bottom of your foot loops to keep your feet from sliding out of the loops. Put your foot in the loop underneath the rubber band and then just push down on the rubber band to tighten the webbing across the top of your foot.
  • Learn to not only ascend, but to transfer from one rope to another (around a knot) and continue ascending. This is very common in adventure racing. You may also be asked to do an ascent to rappel transition, which you should learn to do suspended mid-rope. It's not hard, but there's definitely a method to the madness.
  • If you're new to rope work, sandwich yourself between your teammates in the lineup for ascending or rappelling on your designated rope. That way you have a coach at the bottom and at the top if you need one.
  • Tie your hair, maps, compass and the waist strap of your backpack behind you before you get to the rope. Anything that can be caught in your equipment WILL be.
  • Teamwork

    Adventure racing is one of the only sports in which you actually have to have your teammates with you, doing exactly what you're doing, glued to your side at all times. That's why adventure racing is just as much an interpersonal journey as a physical one. In the best of times, you will experience moments that will bond you to your teammates in a very special way for life. In the worst of times, you will walk away having experienced the worst aspects of human nature and be left to pick up the pieces of your shattered hopes.

    In my experience, a lack of teamwork skills is responsible for at least 40 to 50 percent of the DNFs in adventure racing, and it is far too important a factor to overlook in any discussion about the sport. So here's my two cents:

    After years of study in what causes a team to rise from "good" to "world class," I've come to the conclusion that the biggest factors are the attitudes and actions of the individual teammates. In the races my team and I have won, we were not the strongest or the fastest, but we were able to create a "human synergy" -- an ephemeral quality or "magic" that made the TEAM stronger than the collective training and experience of the individual members. If I could bottle it, I would certainly be a millionaire. But after a good deal of thinking about the subject, I have a pretty good idea of the essential elements required for this human synergy. Here's the highlight reel:

    8 Essential Elements of Human Synergy
    T Total commitment
    E Empathy and awareness of teammates
    A Adversity management
    M Mutual respect
    W "We" versus "I" thinking
    O Ownership of the project
    R Relinquishment of ego
    K Kinetic leadership

  • Be the teammate you would want to race with.
  • Be cognizant of the fact that, due to the intensity of the emotions generated in this sport, the way that you treat people (especially during their lowest moments) will always be remembered.
  • In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make (for you Beatles fans).
  • Try to "coach" versus criticize. Extending a hand always has more impact than pointing a finger.
  • Remember your priorities. Our team's priorities, in order, are to: stay safe, stay friends and go like hell.
  • Check your ego at the start line.
  • That's it! I'm spent! That's the full download about getting started in adventure racing from my skull to yours. The rest is up to you! So get out there with your pals and make it happen -- soon. It will be a life-changing and life-affirming experience you will never forget. See you "Out There!"

    Find an adventure race in your area.

    Find more tips on Adventure Racing and up-to-date information for the active outdoors enthusiast.

    Robyn Benincasa has competed in over 15 expedition length adventure races and has won both the Eco-Challenge (Borneo 2000) and the Raid Gauloises (1998). When she's not out playing with her new kiwi teammates on Team Merrell/Zanfel Adventure, she can be found at her real job as a firefighter for the City of San Diego or working on her newest passion: bringing the teamwork skills of adventure racing and firefighting to the corporate world through and
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