Finishing School

Okay, you've got the endurance to go the distance. But that's only part of the adventure-racing game. Here's what else you need to know.

Jul 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

Navigation: Most weekend adventure races involve map-and-compass-type navigation, with teams "connecting the dots" from checkpoint to checkpoint, the locations of which are typically revealed just before the race begins. "Study your map well before plotting your course," counsels Nagle. Establish your route before you begin moving, and make sure everyone's map-and-compass skills are well rehearsed (GPS receivers are to adventure racing what steroids are to track and field). Learn to judge distance traveled by pacing, a critical strategy when traveling at night. Lost? Plot a course toward a landmark that's easily intersected, like a river or trail. Follow other teams only as a last resort.

Team Management: Once on the course, says Sassin, "80 percent of success in adventure racing comes from team dynamics." The golden rules of communication, as your girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse, or marriage counselor will tell you, are to refrain from assigning blame and making negative comments—and to ask for help from your partners when you need it. Remember: Democracy works. All team members should participate actively in decision making and problem solving, and the major- ity should rule.
Pacing: Forget clocking minutes per mile or miles per hour (or, in some cases, hours per mile). The key principle of pacing during an adventure race is this: "Your team will travel fastest when every member is using the same amount of energy all the time," says Sassin. Put the most weight on who ever is strongest in the present discipline or is feeling best at the time. Also, place your slowest teammate near the front; it's good for morale and ensures that the team doesn't travel too fast. Relieve struggling teammates of weight and—when things get really bad—tow your faltering racer.

Nutrition: Adventure racing burns as many as 20,000 calories during a 48-hour race (Nagle lost 22 pounds during his eight-day first-place effort in the '98 Raid). Expect to eat something every hour, even if you feel full or miserable or, commonly, both. Carry just enough to get you to the next supported checkpoint, where you can grab something hot and go. Many racers prefer snacks like beef jerky and Gummi Bears over trail mix and energy bars. "The four adventure-racing food groups are sugar, salt, fat, and caffeine," says Eco-Challenge vet Robyn Benincasa. As for fluids, check your pee; it should be as clear as Sprite during the race. More like Mountain Dew? High time to hydrate. Swig a few ounces of an electrolyte drink every ten minutes and down juice and caffeinated beverages (flat Coke is a favorite) at checkpoints.

Equipment: The two most common gear mistakes made by novice racers are choosing luxury (overbuilt backpacks, full-suspension bikes) over economy, thus carrying unnecessary gear (more than one sawed-off toothbrush for the team). Weight is the enemy; carry one item for multiple uses: Your bra is also two pockets. Duct tape repairs everything. Bring all items on a race's required equipment list—but little else (some essentials that may not make the list: trekking poles to take stress off feet and knees, bungee cords for towing knackered teammates). Be sure to train at least once with every piece of clothing and equipment you plan to use during the race. And a tip from the pros: Wear thin socks (two pairs if it's overly chilly); they'll help prevent blisters.

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