10 April 2020

What’s it like to run an adventure race?

June 7, 2010

Fancy trying something a little bit different? Adventure races have it all, including map reading and the required ability to change a tyre at speed as Rachael Woolston discovered..

adventure-racing-1When you regularly run races it doesn’t take long before your fitness progresses and you begin to seek bigger challenges; a 5k becomes a 10k, which becomes a half marathon or even marathon. But where do you go next?

Many people switch to triathlons for training variety but I was looking for a new challenge which would mirror the cross training principles of triathlons and combine it with the fun of competing in a team. Step into the breach, Adventure racing.

With its mix of off road running, mountain biking and kayaking, adventure racing offers a more rugged event, combined with the fun of training and competing in a team. Or that’s what we thought when my team of novices entered our first adventure race, the Questars Q2 The Quest Challenge in the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset over the weekend of April 24-25th.

We awoke to a bitterly cold morning on Saturday, and nervously gulped down porridge with nuts and dried fruit to help fuel the day. It comprised 3 hours of trail running with the additional task of having to navigate to check points to pick up points, followed by 2/12 hours of biking and kayaking, and a 75min night run stage. We’d sleep that night but faced a four hour stage of mixed challenges on the Sunday. Points would be accrued throughout the race according to checkpoints visited.


To say we felt ill prepared would be an understatement. Our team training, due to work and social commitments had comprised just two long runs, a bike ride and kayak. But no map reading, a crucial oversight considering only one of us was confident around a map. But we weren’t the only nervous first timers.

There were 100 teams competing, ranging from solo teams to four member teams. It was a friendly atmosphere with a mixture of corporate teams, friends and a few real pros. But what we all shared was a love of the outdoors, being active and having fun.

After breakfast, as the sun rose over the stunning Dorset countryside melting away the cold we met in the event tent for a briefing. Here we were given ‘stage notes’ to use alongside a map which marked out the various checkpoints. The stage notes provided clues such as ‘by the finger post north of the track.’ One member of each team had to wear a sensor around their neck, which when touched to a checkpoint recorded that we had been there and at what time .

We set off at 9.30 with Aleks, the designated map reader. It felt odd running off in one direction as other teams went off in the opposite direction. But that’s all part of the psychology of adventure racing. Do you stick to your route or start questioning either your map reading or strategy?


Thankfully, our game plan for the first stage, to go for lots of low value checkpoints nearby to conserve our energy seemed to work out. Although, having been concentrating on the maps and the amazing scenery none of us felt like we’d been running for as long as we actually had. We arrived back into camp congratulating ourselves on our first stage only to commit our first mistake.

Treating an adventure race like you’re on a camping trip doesn’t work. AS our neighbours broke open Tupperware with ready made pasta salads to fuel up in time for the next stage, we sat down to make our lunch. It meant that we started the saddles and paddles stage not having digested our food.

ON top of that, it was immediately obviously that this was harder strategy wise. We were given just a 30minute window for our kayak stage so we had to judge how far we could get on our bike and leave ourselves time to get to the water. Mistake number two.

We opted for the uphill checkpoint with but a steady climb through gravel and sand took its toll. And after collecting the points we got lost. As we frantically tried to make our way to the water, we found ourselves hurtling down hill through deep sand, gravel, bogs and tree stumps.Yet it led to one of the most exciting parts of the day and the most team bonding.

We arrived at our kayak stage with just five minutes to get out on the water, pick up a checkpoint and get back on land before being penalised 100 points. None of the race personnel on hand at the kayak stage thought we’d make it. But somehow we did.

Buzzing from our speedboat kayak stage, we nevertheless ended up going out with a whimper when my bike sprung a puncture minutes before the cut off time. Unable to find the puncture, and without the correct inner tube (doh, mistake number three!) I had to sit on the back of team mate Nancy’s bike, whilst Aleks rode both bikes back. Nevertheless, we got back to our tent flushed with excitement and adrenalin.

The day ended with as much excitement in the night running stage. Equipped with head torches, we found ourselves haring through forests and up hills in sand searching for checkpoints. Occasionally another team would come hurtling past or you’d see a team’s lights bobbing up and down through the forest like a team of wood sprites. It made for an exhilarating finish to the day. Apart from a few blisters and tight calves, all of us felt good as we collapsed into our sleeping bags that night.

The next morning was a different matter. There were a few stiff legs and backs and so we decided to run first and get it out of the way. We’d then bike to the kayak stage and be able to bike back. But a full day’s adventuring had taken its toll.

It is all very well being able to read a map and strategise when you feel fresh. But trying when you are physically tired is much harder. We shared the map reading and found ourselves lost and unsure of direction.

We were all disappointed to end the race unable to find the one checkpoint we had to visit or incurr penalties but nothing could dampen our buzz. The race had been a fantastic weekend of pushing our bodies to the limit, using our brains, team work and meeting other people in a beautiful part of the countryside. Before we’d even packed our tent we were discussing the next race we wanted to enter.

As novices we’d had no idea what about what expect and other than a fitness training programme everything else from what to eat , what to wear and how to strategise had been new to us. Honestly, the best way to train for an adventure race is to get one under your belt and learn from your mistakes. Now, where’s that puncture kit…

What we ate…

Breakfast: Porridge with nuts and apricots

Lunch: Egg and Tuna sandwiches

Dinner: Couscous with sweet potato and chilli sardines


The Savoury:

Nairns Sunflower and Pumpkin Oat cakes with peanut butter – helped to release energy slowly with a hit of protein. www.nairns-oatcakes.com

Pepperonni – provided much needed salt

Rice Cakes with cheese

The Sweet:

Nairn’s Ginger Oat Cakes


Dorset Cereal Fruit, Nuts and Seeds bars – were great for a hit of energy containing apricots, bananas, sultanas, pumpkins seeds, almonds and hazlenuts, www.dorsetcereals.co.uk

Pack Tunch Pineapple and Coconut bars, www.tunchfoods.com made from completely natural ingredients with dates, pineapple, coconut and puffed rice

Nunn Hydration tablets, www.nunn.com, just pop one of these tablets in your water pack and they provide the perfect mixture of electrolytes to keep you rehydrated without the calories. Much easier to drink than water alone when you’re on the go

What we didn’t have and wished we did: Salty food, eggs and bacon and muesli

For details of Questar’s next adventure race visit www.questars.co.uk

Rachael Woolston, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine


Read more about adventure racing here:

Adventure racing: the more exciting way to stay fit

Getting Started – Adventure Racing


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