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Choosing a Race

By Ian Adamson

With more than 400 adventure races in North America this year alone, and likely more in 2024, the task of choosing a race can be overwhelming. The decision process can be made easier, however, if you follow a few basic steps.

1. What? One of the first things you need to consider when choosing a race is what sort of race you want to do. Do you want to do a short and fast sprint race of a few hours, or do you want to tackle a weekend race and go through the night? Do you want to do an urban race, or a wilderness race? Do you want a race with whitewater, flat water or no water? Lots of mountain biking or a little? Challenging navigation or straightforward navigation? Find out the details from the race website or by calling the race director.

2. Where? Location is important to most people. Do you want to stay in your local area, or are you willing to travel to the event? You might have a desire to go tropical and head to Florida, or maybe you like the mountains and want to race in the Rockies. Keep in mind that traveling to a race requires money and an enormous amount of planning.

3. When? Are you willing to take vacation time to race, or are you restricted to races you can do in a weekend? If you are considering a weekend event, make sure you have enough time to get through the check-in and then back home after the race safely, especially if you are driving and are tired from lack of sleep. If you're driving more than eight hours to an overnight competition, you should consider arriving a day or more early to catch up on rest before the event, and possibly stay a night after the race to rest before driving. This isn't possible for everyone, but it is worth considering.

4. Why? One of the most important considerations if you are racing with a team (instead of racing solo) is to understand everyone's goals for the race. Doing an event with teammates who have disparate agendas can be a miserable experience, so make sure your team agrees on their goals. If your goal is to finish top-three, you don't want a teammate who's goal is to simply make the time cut offs, and vice versa.

5. How? Don't overestimate your abilities. Many athletes attempt races that are over their heads, and suffer as a consequence. If you are stepping up from sprint races to something more substantial, like a 24-hour race, consider adjusting your goals so you are not disappointed. You also need to work out a budget for the race to see if it is within your means. Expenses have a way of creeping up and post-race credit card bills can be a shock if you don't anticipate all the costs. These may include entry fees, travel, accommodation, meals, race food, and unexpected items like last-minute gear, bike tune-ups, etc.

6. Safety. Although most race directors are well-meaning and diligent, there are quite a few who have little or no experience. If you go to a first-time event, ask a few pertinent questions, especially about safety. Are the climb riggers professionals? What sort of water safety is on hand, and do they have rescue certifications? What credentials does the medical team have? Are there emergency medical services on hand? Are the local authorities (fire, police, ambulance, hospital) aware of the event? Are there permits necessary and have they been issued? Who designed the course, what experience do they have and have they taken care of potential bottlenecks? Is there enough staff to monitor the course, and is their communications network adequate? Established races have generally had time to work out the bugs, but you should approach new events with caution.

Ultimately your race choice is likely to be something of a compromise. You may travel farther or spend more money than you anticipated, but whatever you end up doing, you can make it an enjoyable and rewarding experience if you cross the start line with a flexible attitude and a goal to have fun.

Three-time Eco-Challenge champion Ian Adamson competes for Team Nike ACG/Balance Bar and sets courses for a variety of adventure events around the world.

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