School's out and the kids are on the loose. Want to give them the gift of an epic outdoor summer? You'll need equal parts strategy and synchronicity, and a major dose four key ingredients: outdoor camps, sports festivals, family adventures, and free time.
We bring you four of the best adventure festivals of 2014 to see you through to the start of school. Most offer free clinics and focus on healthy fun outside over hard-core competition, but there's something for every kid in the list below. The days are long but the season is fleeting. Have a blast.
The original showdown of summer adventure sports, the annual GoPro Games will wear you out with a frenetic schedule of races and comps for professional and amateur athletes, adults, kids, and even the family dog. Watching elites dominate the day in the Slackline World Cup, slopestyle biking, and steepcreeking is always major motivation to crush it in your own event, be it the youth bouldering contest, the Kids' Dash obstacle course (200 yards for four- to six-year olds, and one mile for ages seven and older), or the Rocky Dog Trail Run—a 5K course for pooches and their humans. Apres-racing, check out the Outdoor Reels Film series, free outdoor concerts and yoga classes, and an open-to-all photo competition.
Need a reason to head to the Sierras during the summer solstice? How about ten days of trail running, SUPing, mountain biking, disc golf, off-road triathlons, kayaking, free skills clinics, adventure movies, and live music on the beach. Two words: Pace yourself. For adults, there's a 7.9-mile trail run to Squaw along the Truckee River, a half-marathon and 50K ultra, paddleboard racing on Lake Tahoe, and a four- and eight-hour mountain bike races. Kids face off in the mini Big Blue Waterman Challenge, a true Tahoe-style triathlon, with swimming, running, and SUPing. Xterra comes to town, too, with an off-road triathlon, sprint, and duathlon; all three have youth categories for kids 17 and younger. When it's time to unwind, don't miss the full moon and sunset family kayaking tours.
Some festivals have events for the kids. This one isan event for the kids. A breeding ground for the next generation of multisport athletes, the fifth-annual race pits teams of two—ages six to 14—against each other while navigating mountain biking, hiking, zip lining, and climbing challenges. Kid-pleasers such as a slip-n-slide, Tarzan swing, and river tubing keep the contest fun, and parents are welcome to tag along on the course (without helicoptering too much, or offering assistance). Competitors are divided by age into beginner, intermediate, and advanced categories, and can fine-tune their mad skills at the pre-race mountain biking, climbing, and teamwork clinics. A Strider bike course and family mud run let younger siblings and parents in on the action.
Whistler might have the epic ten-day Crankworx Freeride Festival (for junior riders, the Kidworx pump track, trail riding, and jumping comps go off on August 16), but the lesser-known Big Pig is the sleeper of the BC bike festival scene. Burns Lake, an outpost of 2,500 people in the remote northern interior, might not be on your radar—yet—but as Canada's first IMBA Ride Center (awarded to only the most stellar mountain-biking destinations), it should be. The fat-tire celebration launches on Friday with mini downhill, cross-country, and skills events for youth riders ages five to 12 (nab first place and you'll pocket $20!). And while adults will go big in the four-cross race and jump jam at the bike park—designed by the same folks who created Whistler's—and the 70K Dante Race on the ripping Charlotte's Web singletrack, what really sets Big Pig apart is the Wilbur Wheelay, a three-hour, enduro-style cross-country family relay that wraps the weekend of riding.
One last note: Many major obstacle racing, trail running, and off-road triathlon series offer free kids' programs on race day. Check out Merrell's Down and Dirty Obstacle Race, Spartan Race, and Xterra for upcoming events around the country.
For many people, running and travel go hand-in-hand. Sure, hometown marathons are fun, but what better excuse to see the world than to sign up for an event in an exotic locale? Now, runners looking for a fall race have a new option that will appeal to serious athletes and travel junkies alike: For the first time since the race’s inception in 1987, U.S. citizens will be able to travel legally to Cuba to participate in the 2014 Marabana Havana Marathon or Half Marathon on November 16.
Government-imposed travel restrictions have kept most Americans out of Cuba for most of the past 50 years. Even after regulations were relaxed in 2011, people traveling from the United States must do so with licensed tour companies via chartered flights, and their visits must be educational and cultural in nature—no sunbathing, exploring without a guide, or participating in Cuba's adventure-sport offerings like rafting, cycling, and scuba diving. (Americans traveling through other countries can get around these rules, but risk getting caught in Customs and answering to the U.S. government when they return home.)
Tom Popper, president of Insight Cuba, wanted to change that. His New York-based company has had great success providing tours under its existing "people-to-people" license, but—as a runner himself—Popper knew the Havana Marathon could offer visitors a unique and valuable perspective on the country and its people. "Runners typically share a bond right away, even if they don't speak the same language," Popper says. "We thought this would be a great way to get Americans side by side, literally, with Cubans and have a really meaningful interaction."
It took several years and a pilot attempt to start a marathon under the company's people-to-people license, but Popper finally got his plan up and running with the approval of a brand-new amateur sports license, the first of its kind awarded to an American tour company. Under this license, Insight Cuba can take 156 race participants to Cuba—with options for four-day or eight-day excursions ranging from $2,495 to $4,395 per person—and he expects these slots to sell out quickly.
Popper hopes that this new license will also open up travel to Cuba for other fitness-related opportunities. "Provided the marathon is a success, a logical next step would be in the area of biking—this is something we will certainly explore," he says, although he adds that when dealing with government-sanctioned travel, "nothing is ever guaranteed."
Cuba isn't the only country using amateur sports to strengthen international ties, either. This year was also the first time that North Korea's Pyongyang Marathon, held in April, was open to non-professional athletes from other countries. For visitors who are otherwise required to have structured itineraries and constant supervision, the opportunity to essentially sightsee for 26 miles (albeit, on a specific course and surrounded by other runners) was unprecedented.
This may be an attempt by the North Korean government to increase tourism and bring new sources of revenue to the cash-strapped country, says Maria Toyoda, associate dean for global initiatives at Villanova University. It's also likely a political message, meant for both domestic and international consumption. "I'm sure it was televised, and that there was a lot of coverage given to the fact that this was a prestige event that drew athletes from all over the world," she says. "By showcasing foreigners that stand out among Korean athletes, they're hoping to project a positive image of the country."
The tour company Experience North Korea is already taking reservations its 2015 marathon package; they also offer a Pyongyang Golf Experience, as well. And while these may be the only formerly forbidden countries offering up marathon slots, others are opening their doors to other types of adventure travelers, as well: A quick Internet search shows plenty of opportunities for backpacking, skiing, and mountain biking in Iran, for example, or camping and scuba diving in Myanmar.
Of course, there are always risks when participating in physically demanding activities, and there are always dangers when traveling in unfamiliar countries; doing both together, then, requires careful preparation and, sometimes, a leap of faith. But speaking about the Havana Marathon specifically, Popper says it's one of the safest and most well organized events he's ever seen. And he believes that allowing Americans greater access to this type of travel will make for more rewarding, mutually beneficial experiences for everyone involved—locals and adventure tourists alike.
Plenty of watches track pace and distance. The 620 ($400) also does advanced analytics such as cadence, ground-contact time, and VO2 max. All the data is sifted to give you recovery estimates and race-time predictions on the easy-to-read screen.
LG HRM headphones
By measuring blood-flow signals from the auricle of the ear, LG’s HRM headphones not only track your heart rate but also estimate your VO2 max, and all the data is sent via Bluetooth to your iPhone or Android device. The audio is good, too. Available this spring.
The Spree ($300) measures your body temperature: that means it can alert you when you’re fully warmed up and, more important, tell you when you’re overheating. The headband also tracks heart rate and calories burned and records your route via GPS and an Android or iOS app.
Mio Link heart-rate band
The streamlined Link wristband ($100), with a heart-rate monitor built right in, pairs via Bluetooth or ANT+ to beam workout data to a range of fitness apps and devices. You can also set a heart-rate zone to dial in your training efficiency.
Polar V800 watch
The V800 ($400) features lap counting, speed and distance tracking via integrated GPS, and a waterproof heart-rate monitor. But it also functions as an activity tracker even when you’re not training, so you know how well you’re recovering.
Wahoo Fitness Tickr Run chest strap
There are plenty of chest straps that track your heart rate. But only the Tickr ($80) has a built-in accelerometer that, when paired with an iOS app, can monitor the bounce in your stride and coach you to a smoother, more efficient run.