01 October 2022

Getting Started – Adventure Racing

November 13, 2009

You can’t have failed to notice the rise in popularity of adventure racing events in recent years. Here’s Sportsister’s guide to get you started in these multi-sport events that will see you running, biking, paddling and more besides.

Adventure-racing-1What’s it all about?

Adventure racing is essentially a multi-sport race, involving a minimum of trail running and mountain biking and also usually flatwater canoeing or kayaking.

Any number of additional activities can be involved, depending on the individual race format, with races sometimes including zip wires, abseils, canyoning, via ferratas, inline skating or rafting, and sometimes even more esoteric challenges.

Races vary in length from a few hours to several days, and can be either over linear courses or more open countryside based orienteering style events. Course based races usually revolve around timing, whereas orienteering style events often use checkpoints with different scores, meaning a team has to make their own decisions about time cut offs/penalties vs possible scores.


Click here for more getting started guides and training plans on Sportsister


Adventure races can either be run as an individual, or in mixed or single sex teams or pairs, with team spirit and camaraderie often being one of the more enjoyable aspects of the sport. Most appealing though is the combination of a physical challenge and a stunning outdoor location.

Do I need to be very fit or have any particular skills?

All adventure races require a level of general fitness, especially if you’re going to enjoy the experience. While shorter events obviously involve shorter distances and duration and can be less intimidating, they can also take on more of a ‘sprint’ character.

Longer races obviously require more stamina, but can also feel more relaxed. As long as you can run for a reasonable distance and are fairly happy on a mountain bike you should be fine to give a race a try. Canoeing skills are a bonus but safe sit-on style boats are the norm, meaning even those with minimal experience can have a try.

Races can be linear, needing no navigational skills, or checkpoint based and more like orienteering, requiring confidence with a map and compass. Do some investigating and you should find something that will suit your skills and goals.


How to train

The best way to train for an adventure race is to make sure you’re comfortable in the primary disciplines, so get out running and riding as far and for as long as you can. It’s also useful to spend one session a week doing one directly after the other, to mimic the race format. This will encourage your muscles to cope better with the transition between bike and foot.

Navigation practice is crucial if you’re doing a checkpoint based event, and training regularly with your team mates is a good idea if you want to avoid race day team malfunctions.

What equipment do I need?

The key to enjoying adventure racing in the long term is to fine tune your kit, to make events as comfortable as they can be and transitions as quick as possible. Clothing wise, lightly padded specialist triathlon shorts can be a good option for running and riding based races, with ¾ length tights over the top if it’s a chilly day. A highly wicking base layer top is crucial, and you’ll need a windproof shell too for descents and stops.

For winter races, warm gloves, a hat, a super lightweight packable waterproof jacket and even a warm gilet should all be considered. Choose running shoes that will be able to cope with copious mud as well as prolonged tarmac sections.

You can ride with flat pedals or just change shoes at the transition point if you use SPDs. A lightweight front suspension mountain bike is ideal, preferably with a rotating map board for it. Nearly all events involving kayaks or canoes will provide a boat.


Where can I do it?

Adventure Racing has taken off massively in the UK in recent years, with various race series offering events in different geographical areas. The north and south east are slightly better served than the west, but if you’re willing to travel a little, most are easily reached without too much hassle.

Races tend to be centred around national parks or scenic countryside areas. For the more ambitious, there are constantly races taking place around the world, including throughout the Alps, North America and Australia and New Zealand. Many of these overseas challenges are for really experienced (and sponsored/wealthy) racers only.

How much does it cost?

It’s not a cheap sport with events in the UK ranging in price from £70 to £350 or upwards for a pair to enter.


Here are just a few of the options for racing in the UK:

Helly Hansen

– Various locations.

– A linear race including mountain biking, trail running, kayaking and ‘mystery challenges’.

– Teams of three only.


Dynamic Adventure Racing

– Southern England locations.

– Checkpoint and navigation based races focussing on mountain biking and trail running.

– Challenge events are two hours on foot and three hours in the saddle, with a one hour transition between, then a one hour after dark navigation section.

– Endurance events last for eight hours and racers choose their own transition timing and duration.

– The once yearly special D.A.R.E is a 12 hour race, additionally including sea kayaking.


Open Adventure

– Northern England locations.

– Checkpoint and navigation based races mainly focussing on mountain biking and trail running.

– Open 5 is a series of five hour events at different locations.

– Or for those who want to compete in a series (all three events must be completed to qualify for the series, although each race can be entered in its own right)- Open 5+ is a five hour event; Open 12 is a 12 hour endurance event and Open 24 is a 24 hour endurance event, running straight through the night, involving kayaking and also additional challenges.



– South and West of England/Wales locations.

– Navigation/checkpoint based race including mountain biking and trail running, with optional extra kayaking stage.


Rat Race Urban Adventure Race

– Cities throughout the UK.

– Unusual urban based checkpoint style event, based on running, mountain biking and kayaking, with a multitude of additional challenges.


Further information

Sleepmonsters – a valuable resource for all would be adventure racers, including global events calendar, race reports and information.


Lara Dunn, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

Select a sport

Find out how to get started, training plans and expert advice.