You’re thinking of doing an adventure race, that’s awesome!  If you’re wondering what an adventure race is, it’s a team event where you navigate through the bush to find checkpoints usually on foot, mountain bike and kayak.

Your very first adventure race can be daunting but don’t be overwhelmed, you can do it.  Follow this step-by-step process and you’ll cross that finish line in no time!

1) Find a Race

Pick a race in advance to give yourself time to train, one to three months away depending on your current fitness.  ‘Sprint’ races are the shortest events but don’t be fooled by the name.  They are 2-6 hours long (just shorter than ‘expedition’ races that can last 10 days!).  Most events also have a shorter, novice option.  Check out http://adventurerace.com.au/ for a calendar of off-road events.

2) Team mate

Most sprint events are in teams of two so you need to find a racing buddy. Preparing and training is much more fun together.  Don’t worry if you can’t twist your friend’s arm, race organisers can often put you in touch with others looking for a team.

3) How fit do I need to be?

Even if the course is challenging, don’t feel pressured to ‘race’.  Top teams are highly competitive, but for many teams, the challenge is to finish, learn and enjoy the experience.  It’s important to communicate with your team mate about your goals.  There’s nothing like training your guts out when your team mate hasn’t trained all year – or exhausting yourself at their frenetic pace.

If you exercise regularly and pace yourselves, you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting to the finish.  But it will be loads more fun if you’ve trained and can run (or walk), ride and kayak for at least an hour.  Look out for an article coming up in Travel, Play Live all about training for adventure races.

4) What to wear?

Ideally use the same clothes for the whole race so you don’t waste time changing at transitions.  I wear a t-shirt, bike pants, a hat, sunnies and running shoes and socks. Choose merino or synthetic, not cotton and don’t wear bike pants with too much padding (wet nappy feeling anyone?).  If it’s winter, you might need a jumper and/or tights.  For the full run down, Ben Cirulis wrote a detailed blog here: http://www.blog.iomerino.com/io-crew/adventure-racing-champs/.

5) What to bring?

Race food, yum!  It’s easy to forget to eat and ‘hit a wall’ later with no energy, so eat a small amount, frequently.  Bring high carb food that is easy to eat on the go like museli bars, sandwiches/wraps (in bite sized pieces), chocolate, energy bars or dried fruit.

Equipment wise, start with the mandatory gear list.  Try not to carry extra if you can help it, a light pack makes a huge difference.  Test your race clothes, equipment and food in training so you don’t get nasty surprises on race day like chafing or blisters.

6) Navigation

Many people worry about navigation but there’s only one way to improve, so just give it a go.  In sprint races it’s rarely harder than reading a street map.  Take your time – going fast is no help if it’s in the wrong direction.  Other teams are (usually) willing to help if you get stuck, but don’t assume they know where they’re going either!  If you go wrong, it just makes for a good story anyway.

7) Race Day

Arrive early on race morning.  Double check your bike, especially if you have to dismantle it to get it in the car.  Mark your route with highlighters so you can follow it easily and contact your map if it’s not already waterproof.  Don’t forget suncream and a final snack.

The race – it’s the big moment finally!  In your first race, finishing is already a huge achievement.  Try to pace yourselves (hard to do when you’re full of adrenaline) and look after your team mate – chances are if you’re finding it tough, they are too.

Sprint races are very achievable and even more fun with some training and preparation.  You get to challenge yourself and have fun in the great outdoors with like-minded people.  So pick a race, find a team-mate and go for it!

What if it all goes wrong?

Who cares!  Any experienced racer had ‘lessons’ – it’s how you become experienced after all.  My first 24hr race was a disaster – we started without our map and had to kayak back to get it (much to the amusement of the crowd at the start line).  My team mates’ bike brakes were jammed on and it took 30mins to get the wheels to turn.  We finally finished when the organisers had packed up everything, including the finish line!  But I learnt so much and I still look back and giggle.  At the end of the day, you’re hanging out in the bush with a mate, so it can’t be that bad.